Saturday, July 16, 2011

2008 archive Oct.

Party Membership
At the Party conference I picked up a very interesting document on "Per Member Fee League Tables" from the Party Treasurers stand.   First of all let me congratulate the Treasurers on their openness.   They run one of the best departments in Central Office - very professional.   The booklet raises some important points.   It would appear that total membership is about 200,000.   This is quite a big drop on previous figures and cause for alarm.   I have no doubt that until we bring the Party into the 21st century this decline will continue.   We need a democratic Party with vigorous discussion and debate if we are to find the solutions to today's problems.
Some figures in the booklet are frightening.   A Conservative held seat like Norfolk North West either has no members or has forgotten to pay anything to Central Office.   Other Conservative seats like Hornchurch and Aldridge Brownhills appear to have less than 30 members.     There are 20 constituencies with no members whatsoever and  a further 65 constituencies with less than 20 members.   Unless action is taken now the Conservative Party will cease to exist as a membership organisation.
My Week
Thursday 23 October
At BAFTA for a private showing of Oliver Stone's film "W".   Afterwards asked Oliver Stone a question and told him that the film scared the life out of me.   This film shows how the most powerful man in the World got into that position.   Scary, could it happen again and did the same hubris that got us into the Iraq war get us into the biggest economic crisis of our life times?   According to Oliver Stone - yes.    Excellent performances from the actors playing George and Laura Bush.
Wednesday 22 October
Royal Court theatre to see "Now or Later" - a short play about the US Presidential election.   Excellent acting and terrific dialogue.   Well worth seeing if you can get in.    This is what drama should be about.
Interviewed on News 24 about George Osborne - summary of what I said:
George Osborne is silly but has not committed a hanging offence.   He should wrap his head in sackcloth and ashes and take a vow of silence, particularly when talking to opposition politicians or the media.    This would be a non story if donations from individuals and organisations were limited to £10,000.   What is damaging is that at a time when we are facing an economic crisis, stories about two of our top politicians being wined and dined by a Russian billionaire on a multi million pound yacht in the Mediterranean and entertained by a hedge fund manager make people very angry.
What people do not understand is why it is that not a single fat cat banker, useless politician, incompetent council treasurer, hopeless regulator or greedy auditor has had the courage to accept the blame and say sorry for the biggest economic crisis we have ever faced.   Do not be surprised if  as unemployment rises, homes are repossessed and businesses go bust the people take to the streets to overturn the rotten system that has brought us to this point.
Irwin Stelzer.JPG (400018 bytes)Monday 20th OctoberIrwin Stelzer addressed the Bruges Group.    Fascinating, although I disagreed with much of what he said.    Andrew Roberts gave an insight into the creation of Anglo-American Grand Strategy 1941-45 and afterwards signed copies of his book on the subject.Andrew Roberts.JPG (866021 bytes)

From the Grass Roots
                                                BIRMINGHAM CONFERENCE 2008
                                             A CONSERVATIVE

I had never stayed in Birmingham before and my hotel was just 300 yards from the International Conference Centre.   I had chosen wisely because at lunch time and in the evenings many fringe meetings were going on which were easily accessible.   Rigorous security checks were in force at the entrance to the I.C.C. but on passing through these you were free to roam the many and various halls, rooms and suites.   The problem was that as soon as you knew your way around the building conference was nearly over.

On Sunday morning after a welcome from Party Chairman,Caroline Spellman, who warned us against complacency and never to again vacate the centre ground where elections are won and lost, particularly now that we were winning the battle of ideas, we were given a history of Birmingham (where Conference was being held for the first time since 1912) by David Willetts who had written a short book about the development of Birmingham since the 1860s.   I had not realised that Joseph Chamberlain was originally a Liberal who joined forces with Benjamin Disraeli and broke with Gladstone over home rule for Ireland.   Chamberlain eventually became a Liberal Unionist and added to the Conservative Party its urban base for up until then we were essentially a party of rural England, church and squire.

The economic crisis overshadowed conference and those responsible for planning the programme had wisely decided to jettison the item ‘Celebrating Election Success’ scheduled for early that afternoon.   Instead we had a witty speech from William Hague castigating the Prime Minister’s mismanagement of the economy when Chancellor for ten years followed by a serious and yet optimistic speech from David Cameron about the new challenges which face our country in these difficult and uncertain times.

The various debates followed a similar pattern.   A member of the shadow cabinet would introduce the topic and guests, not necessarily all Conservatives, would be invited to speak on the subject as it affected them but nonetheless relevant to the discussion in question.   There might also be a short video and this would often be followed by questions from the floor mainly by prospective parliamentary candidates who were allowed to make their own points and comments.   Our parliamentary candidates, many with a good chance of winning a seat at the next election, now provide a marvellous cross section of the public and come from all walks of life.

We have many more women, a number from the ethnic minorities, gay people and many who work in both the public and private sectors.   Many, I am convinced, have come over to us because in the last ten years they have seen a growth in the bureaucratic government knows best attitude which now affects all areas and they want something done about it.   They look to us to provide the change required and they want a new and radical approach in the knowledge that simply throwing hard earned taxpayers money at the problem does not solve the problem.   We have to be the catalyst for that change.

One of the major themes of conference was how we could repair what David Cameron calls the ‘broken society’.   Hence the emphasis on crime, welfare reform, family breakdown, drug abuse and so on.   One of the most moving speeches –perhaps the most moving – came from Mrs. Elizabeth Burton Phillips who had herself been broken by the death of her 27 year old son, a heroin addict.    She has set up a charity for drug abusers in memory of her son and one was humbled hearing her story.   In another debate, we heard another moving account of a lady who had lost her husband, brutally murdered by a gang of youths,and whose death had robbed her three children of a wonderful father.   And in the same session we heard how a charity Kids Count is helping young people from deprived backgrounds.

Early in the conference, late on Sunday afternoon, Frederick Forsythe and Dr. Liam Fox had spoken of our debt as a nation to our armed forces and of what is known as the Military Covenant.   This means in essence that when called upon to fight our government provides proper and sufficient equipment for the task and a salary and pension commensurate with their status.   On returning from duty decent accommodation is found and good compensation given for any injury suffered.

Late on Monday afternoon, the debate led by Stephen O’Brien,was on the subject ‘Caring for an Elderly Population’.   We heard from the author Terry Pratchett on how he was coping, at a relatively early age,with the onset of a rare form of alzheimer’s disease and how another lady, Marion Talbot,had been forced to place her 89 year old mother in a home for the elderly due to the effects of this crippling and debilitating illness. Just as we had the Military Covenant, there now had to be a Covenant with the Elderly.

Earlier in the day, at the morning session, Alan Duncan had chaired a debate on Business and Enterprise.   He promised that a Conservative government would review, repeal and redress the imbalances and stifling bureaucracy and red tape which prevents many small businesses expanding and employing people.   David Willetts, contributing to the same debate, deplored the fact that the government’s obsession with getting 50% of school leavers into university had led to a lack of mobility and a shortage of skills.   There were, he said, a million young people in the country without a job of any kind and pledged that a Conservative government would create many more apprenticeships and opportunities for learning a skill.

Opening the debate on the economy, Margot James, PPC for Stourbridge, said that only a policy of sound money, living within our means, and saving for the future could get us out of the current mess.   Continuing this theme, the Shadow Chief Secretary, Philip Hammond, reminded us that the past ten years had been an age of irresponsibility with a public sector borrowing deficit now approaching £90 billion, zero growth and a lending rate of 5%.   At the same time taxes had gone up by 69%, government spending by 74% and personal debt was now £1.4 trillion.   There has been an illusion of prosperity and  an unsustainable boom in property prices.    After a short and well received speech from the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, addressed us.   The government’s own fiscal rules had been broken and it was now time to restore financial responsibility.   He also confirmed that, in the light of the new situation, our spending commitments would have to be revised.
That morning I did not arrive in the main hall until 10 a.m. just as Iain Duncan Smith was receiving  a standing ovation for his speech on social justice.   The debate on education was introduced by the PPC for Brigg and Goole, himself a secondary school teacher.   Other speakers included Maria Miller, Nick Gibb and Tim Loughton.

Rising shadow cabinet star, Michael Gove, wound up emphasising the need for change and for bringing common sense back into the classroom. New schools would be created if parents wanted them, independent, although state financed, and there would be scope for the involvement of charities and the voluntary sector.   Gove did not underestimate that there would be opposition to these proposals (based on the Swedish model) – particularly from the teaching unions.   But we provided hope for the future, not fear.

The continuing financial crisis together with the adverse vote the previous evening in the USA House of Representatives led to a second appearance by David Cameron who gave general support to our government and confirmed that we would not obstruct in the House of Commons any measures intended to ease the situation.

It never ceases to amaze me how certain issues are regarded as the preserve of a particular party.   For example defence and crime are regarded as Conservative winners while the NHS and pensions are regarded as bonuses for the Labour Party.    Our debate on the NHS shattered this myth once and for all.   This is probably because David Cameron regularly uses the NHS for himself and his family.    In addition our shadow
Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has been holding the brief for five years and has not used it as a stepping stone to a higher profile position.   In Anne Milton we have someone who has been a nurse and has thus had first hand experience of some of the difficulties faced by NHS staff.   We were promised an end to targets which are distorting health priorities, no polyclinics except where deemed appropriate and a fresh approach to the causes of depression and mental illness.   The view was expressed that too often we try to treat the symptoms but not the cause.

Another interesting session on the final morning was entitled ‘Preparing for Government’ with Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin.   I had already heard Francis Maude at an early morning meeting the previous day and that caused me to be late for Iain Duncan Smith’s speech in the main hall already referred to.   This was followed by a discussion on the environment and then one on national security where the main speaker was Baroness Neville-Jones.   I missed William Hague winding up the debate on Foreign affairs although I did see him on TV afterwards being interviewed by Andrew Neil. (And I do wonder how we will be able to call a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if our Parliament has ratified it before June 2010).

The highlight of the final afternoon was naturally David Cameron’s speech.    Because of the numbers this took place in the much larger Symphony Hall.    We queued for 45 minutes to get a seat during the course of which I chatted to a young lady who is standing as a candidate in the South West Region in next year’s European elections but who is unlikely to be elected as she is sixth on our list for that area.   I sat next to a lady from Wyre Forest whose MP is an independent consultant elected twice on a Save Kidderminster Hospital ticket.    Cameron was introduced by our candidate for Hammersmith.   His speech, I thought, was well delivered and suited to the occasion.   It was in no way triumphalistic but realistic and while the charge ‘a novice’ is true, this may be no bad thing.   For, if the Spectator is to be believed, he has a range of long standing friends in high places upon whom he can call to give him sound and sensible advice in the full knowledge that none of them is after his job.  This contrasts well with the Blair/Brown feud which led to continued tension between Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street .

Outside the conference proper there were, as I've stated, many fringe meetings.    Those which I attended included ones on public health (in particular heart disease), public transport and the place of Scotland within the Union now that there is a SNP led administration in Edinburgh and a distinct possibility of a Conservative government in Westminster by mid 2010.   All very interesting and informative.

Our party has changed dramatically over the last ten years and this was bound to happen given the fact that this is our longest period in opposition since 1916.    I think we would be genuinely surprised at the number of Labour leaning or Labour voting families who have joined us.   And this is in no small measure due to David Cameron who, although born into a family with close ties to the aristocracy, has somehow been able to reach out to them.   And perhaps the most noticeable thing about conference itself was that all the sessions dealt with issues and subjects of most concern to voters; in so doing we were re establishing our credentials as a party who could be trusted with government once more.   Furthermore there was this realisation that this trust once earned could be fragile and that the general election whenever it comes could still easily slip away from us.
Another feature was this year’s Social Action project and the work that the party has been doing over recent months on the Welsh House Farm Estate in the Quinton area of Birmingham.   And our PPC there Deidree Alden would be an asset to the House of Commons.   I sincerely hope she can win back what was in days past one of our safest Birmingham seats.

The global financial situation and the credit cruch continue to dominate the headlines so it was hardly surprising that our Birmingham deliberations did not make the front pages (or in some cases any page at all).   Peter Mandelson’s return to the government and to the Cabinet was naturally a major story and some Labour backbenches could not hide their dismay and in some cases anger that such a divisive figure could be welcomed back so easily and made a life peer due solely to the Prime Minister’s patronage (And  now that the hereditary peers have gone why are we not making a clear case for the second chamber to be elected ?).   No doubt in making the appointment the Prime Minister was thinking of the opening lines of Shakespeare’s Richard III (slightly altered) :
 Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this Sun of Brussels

I think Labour will probably recover somewhat in the polls (there are signs of this already) and we are in all probability eighteen months from a general election.   If a week in politics is a long time, May 2010 is an eternity.    But even though 2005 was a poor one for us in terms of seats won, there are numerous marginal seats which would fall on a very small swing to us.   With a resurgent Nationalist party in Scotland, Labour may well be deprived of a majority in what is its natural heartland.   And despite eleven years of Labour government there are parts of Glasgow where the average life expectancy is thirty (yes thirty) years less than in say parts of Surrey or Berkshire.   We are in for at least a year of belt tightening (or whatever way you might like to describe it) and I hope our leaders are revising downwards their spending plans in the light of the new austerity.   All we can possibly do is to reallocate our current expenditure.   For example, it seems to me crazy to pay school children up to £30 a week by way of grant to stay in school – a fact I recently discovered when visiting my own grammar school, now a comprehensive.   I take the admittedly old fashioned view that children should stay at school because they want to learn and I believe that with finite resources the money could be spent better elsewhere.

Our Birmingham conference promised a radical change in direction.    That said, it continued to reaffirm our belief that we should put our trust in people rather than government and that it is only by devolving power back to local communities and involving the voluntary and charitable institutions that our country can get through the present crisis and build a better future.   These are massive challenges for any government and it is unlikely that the present government will be able to grapple with them.   For not only is it tired after eleven years in office but it has an idealogical apathy to anything that smacks of self help, believing as it does in the empowerment of the state with its targets, directives and hand outs.

David Cameron and his team have gained time to put more flesh on the bones of policy.   Since his election as leader we have made great strides and are on the way back.   The road has been long and hard but provided we keep our nerve and have clear well thought out policies relevant to modern day Britain there is every chance we will win the election whenever it comes.   In the words of my own hero, the late Iain Macleod : ‘The Conservative Party is like dry timber and a spark will set it ablaze ! ‘. Let us prove Macleod right once again by going back to our constituencies and preparing for government.

a main  supper club.JPG (603557 bytes)Friday 18th OctoberAnn Main MP addressing the Bucks Supper Club.   She was given a hard time, firstly about grammar schools, but more importantly about the economic situation.   There is real anger about the position we find ourselves in.   As unemployment and house repossessions rise do not be surprised if the people take to the streets to change the rotten system which has got us here.
Tuesday October 14th
Meeting of the Hansard Society on "No politics, please...we're women.   This meeting was a bit of a whinge.    Women are unfairly represented in Parliament, but instead of fighting for equality using the tools available to them using the present system they want special measures.   To test people's knowledge of politics the Hansard Society conducted a quiz.   One of the questions was "Members of the European Parliament are directly elected by voters."    True of false.   The answer given says "When asked a question relating to how MEPs were chosen men were 13% more likely than women (44% versus 57%) to correctly state that MEPs were directly elected."   The only problem is that the answer is wrong.   Members of the European Parliament are elected from Party lists.   The voter, votes for a Party, not an individual Member, so MEPs are indirectly elected by the voter.   If Hansard cannot understand this what hope is there for the electorate.   Another good reason to change this undemocratic form of election.
Monday October 13th
Meeting of the Beaconsfield and Chesham CPF to discuss the latest brief on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.   Good discussion, but the brief from Central office was totally biased, churning out the discredited views of Al Gore.   I quote "In the UK, we can expect drier summers, wetter winters, higher sea levels and a greater risk of flooding".    It is a pity that we cannot forecast the weather for next week!    The meeting ended in agreement that we should do all we can to economically develop sustainable resources and to conserve energy as well as we can.

Mea Culpa
At the Woodstock literary festival I asked David Cameron a question about our rotten electoral system.   I did not get a very good answer.   However, the question I should have asked was this:    "At a time when the World is on the edge of economic collapse, when the Dole queues in the UK are about to go up to 2 million, when 20% of households are living on an income of less than £100 per week, why is it that not a single fat cat banker, useless politician, incompetent Council treasurer or greedy auditor stood up and said "Mea culpa"?.
Do the people have to take to the streets to change the rotten system that has led us to this sorry state?
My Week
dc & s kellner.JPG (733903 bytes)Friday October 10thAt the Woodstock Literary Festival on a sunny day in Blenheim Palace.
(L) David Cameron interviewed by Simon Kellner of "The Independent" with a photographer taking a picture of you!
(R) And afterwards, David signing copies of the book "Cameron on Cameron."

Wednesday October 8th - Went to the cinema to see "How Ohio Pulled it Off", the story of how the Republican Party stole the election of the President in Ohio in the 2004 Presidential election.    Why did Kerry give in?   The Republicans did the same in Florida in 2000.   It is quite clear that George W. Bush should never have been elected   President.   It is also clear that the USA has a rotten democracy.    It needs cleaning up.   Hanging chads, voting machines that do not work, machines which have clearly been tampered with, electors deleted off electoral rolls, suspect registration processes, armed service votes from overseas not counted, voters forced to wait up to twelve hours to cast their vote and much more.   On top of all this corruption we have the pork barrel politics of Washington and the obscene amount of money spent on elections.   The World's greatest democracy is really a banana republic.   It cannot continue like this.   The chickens are coming home to roost.   We are witnessing the decline and fall of the World superpower.   It will be painful for all of us.

Your Comments - Candidate interference
On Conservativehome web site:
"Some local Conservatives expect usual attempts by CCHQ to influence the process. On the margins of the Birmingham Conference, party officials were seen making strategic introductions for favoured candidates.... this year the Chairmen of the most winnable selecting seats were allocated tickets by CCHQ that were normally given to reward long or exceptional service by members of the voluntary party."
The final nail in the coffin of fair selections and a kick in the teeth for hard-working activists!!
This must be one of the most boring Party conferences in Conservative Party history - no debates, no participation, no involvement.   The Party Conference has become a corporate event, a media presentation, more akin to the launch of a Microsoft product than a political happening.    Even the Fringe has been taken over by corporate sponsorship.    This Conference was expensive, £100 per night in the hotels, the hall was too small, you could not get in for any big name speaker; the stewards were obsessed with health and safety, no standing.   There was no tribal feel about the Conference.    Lots of ambitious young men about to start their climb up the greasy pole, but where were the ordinary Party members?   It is time to bring back the real Party Conference, with motions for debate, in a seaside town where there is cheap accomodation.   If necessary have the media presentation as a seperate event.
On points of praise - the Birmingham police were excellent, always polite and friendly.   Some of the speeches from the platform were excellent including the last two thirds of David Cameron's speech, which was one of the best ever.
As for the National Convention, the quicker this is abolished the better.
Ever since the Parliamentary Party took over the Conference the role of the ordinary member has been diminished.   It is time for the voluntary party to start the fight back.   Now it is being proposed that three more MPs join the Party Board.   This should be fought tooth and nail.   The power of the Parliamentary Party has increased, is increasing, and should be diminished, otherwise as a mass political Party the Conservative party will cease to exist.

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