Norfolk County Council is now a Lab/UKIP/Lib Dem coalition.
After the local elections earlier this month there were 40 Conservative councillors returned, 15 for UKIP, 14 for Labour, 10 for the Lib Dems, four Green Party councillors and one independent. A Labour councillor Cllr George Nobbs has become the council leader.
The Conservative opposition leader Cllr Bill Borrett says:
"The Conservatives will aim to be the best possible opposition and act in the interests of the people of Norfolk.
"But I am concerned that they appear to have no policies and the Greens are not going to join them formally.
"The county council needs a formal strategy to deal with the government's funding cuts ahead and we have heard nothing of that.
"I am sure the people of Norfolk will want to hear their policies but they've spent their first day arguing about seats."
UKIP councillor Cllr Toby Cook says his colleagues "will be taking a back seat."
The murder of Drummer Lee Rigby has prompted consideration as to what could be done to defeat the merchants of hatred and division in our communities. Local councils have an important responsibility. They can start by not making matters worse.
Political Correctness - such as Radstock Town Council's recent proposal not to fly the England Flag on the grounds it would be offensive to Muslims - makes matters worse.
School governors should keep track of the reading lists in their schools. Are there supposedly "anti racist" books which actually emphasise division and promote racial antagonism? For example there is an unpleasant book called The Edge by Alan Gibbons, commonly handed out in secondary schools. Its general message is that white people are racist - it gets across the theme to ethnic minority teenagers reading it that white people don't like them.
Tower Hamlets Council, under its Mayor Lutfur Rahman, offers a helpful example of what not to do. Andrew Gilligan has done a lot of work on this and here is a summary. Huge sums of council funding have been given to front organisations for the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe and those with IFE links are recruited to senior positions in the council. The contrast with Newham Council's efforts to promote good community relations is instructive.
A great tactic for the Left in seeking to defeat a policy they don't like is through vexatious complaints. If they can't get their way through the ballot box they can seek a Judicial Review (fronted by a welfare claimant so it can be funded on Legal Aid) or make an array of complaints to official bodies. No matter how spurious such claims may be, or how expensive they are for the taxpayer, there is no downside for those making them. Even if they lose: They still cause delay. There is the propaganda value when the complaint is made (its subsequent dismissal is generally regarded as less newsworthy.)
An example today comes with the rejection by the Independent Police Complaints Commission of a complaint made against the the Deputy Mayor of London, Stephen Greenhalgh which related to Mr Greenhalgh’s conduct while leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
It concerns the redevelopment of the West Ken and Gibbs Green estates and a baseless claim that residents who supported the redevelopment would be give preferential treatment in the allocation of future housing.
The complaint was made by Jonathan Rosenberg, a Paddington resident and old henchman of Ken Livingstone, that Mr Greenhalgh sanctioned "improper inducements" - that would be misconduct in public office which is a criminal offence.
After four months of extensive investigations, interviews with residents, etc the IPCC found an "absence of any evidence which would indicate that Mr Greenhalgh may have committed a criminal offence."
David Cameron has given a target to local councils that by 2015 they are to have turned round 120,000 Troubled Families. These are families which each cost the taxpayer an estimated average of £75,000 a year. It's not just the welfare bill but the army of public sector operatives constantly meeting them - the social workers, the police, the housing officers, the education welfare officers and so on. Yet after that spending the children are truant from school, family members take part in crime and anti social behaviour and at least one adult family member is on out-of-work benefits.
Councils will be paid by results for families where the children go back to school, the adults get into work and crime ceases. How councils achieve this will be up to them but the basis will be of dealing the family as a whole - rather than expensive and unconnected contact with individual members.
So far the programme is on course. Progress varies from council to council but overall it is ahead of schedule. Leicestershire County Council has already identified 679 of its 810 families - 170% of those it agreed to in the first year of the programme - and is already actively working with 470.
Typically you find that Conservative councils apply socialist policies. This is not normally because Conservative councillors are closet socialists. The problem is they allow policy to be driven by the bureaucracy. Thus, socialist policy remains in place even if control of the council switches from Lib Dem or Labour to Conservative.
What are the socialist characteristics of most Conservative councils?
1. High Council Tax. Band D Council Tax is, on average, £1,138 a year under Conservative councils. Under Labour ones it is £1,206. So is the price of socialism only £68 a year? Or is it more reasonable to say that many Conservative councils are practising socialism? The gap would be even smaller if we took Westminster and Wandsworth out of the equation.
2. Opposing school choice. Often Conservative councils have planning policies which seek to thwart new free schools (or independent schools for that matter) from opening. Many have tried to dissuade schools from becoming academies.
3. Punishing home ownership. Council leaseholders have excessive and complicated charges and find housing officers treat them as class enemies.
4. Using jargon to escape scrutiny. Often Conservative councils will use "investment" as a term for "spending." "Equality" is another word that crops up a lot. Fine if it means that all residents are equally important. But often supposedly Conservative councils pursue equality of economic outcome as an objective. Socialists believe that reducing poverty and reducing inequality are the same thing. Conservatives should understand that they are different. Language matters - for instance in the criteria used to allocate grants to voluntary organisations.
5. Penalising motorists. There needs to be parking charges as space is limited. But typically the annual parking permit charge is higher than justified on these grounds. Traffic jams are also encouraged by excessive amount of traffic lights, bus lanes and humps. Too much street clutter and too many road signs adds to the trouble.
6. Keeping too many children in care. This is perhaps the most stark example. Every relevant Conservative council (those "upper tier" authorities with a "Children's Services" department) applies radical Socialist policies in this area. Social work ideology trumps the interests of the child. Most children in care could and should be placed for adoption. (I won't go through all the details here as I have written about this endlessly before.)
7. Putting burdens on small business. I don't know of a single council that has used the powers that exist to reduce Business Rates for small shops.
8. Opposing traditional architecture. Planning officers will often literally write their own policy to oppose neo-classical architecture. They will slip something in on page 217 of the Unitary Development Plan of the Local Development Framework warning that "pastiche" or "backward looking" design will not gain favour but that something "imaginative" would be welcome. This policy is then used to ensure brutalist concrete slabs go up rather than the sort of design most people prefer.
9. Soft on eviction. Councils, including Conservative councils, are feeble when it comes to evicting the "neighbours from Hell" who make lives for other council tenants such a misery.
10. Asset hoarding. Usually Conservative as well as Labour councils have unused or underused buildings in municipal ownership while also spending a fortune on interest.
Before UKIP became a force in the land this was easier to get away with. If a voter felt their local Conservative council was too socialist would it really make sense for them to vote Labour or Lib Dem? If a Conservative councillor was disillusioned on the same basis it would be similarly perverse for them to defect to Labour or the Lib Dems.
So the right response to UKIP is for Conservative councils to take a step back and consider if they are applying Conservative principles. Not merely to stop votes seeping to UKIP but because it would be right to do so. Of course we can all draw up our own lists of what policies would and would not result. Dealing with the ten problems listed above would mean embracing the common ground rather than the centre ground. It would appeal to the disaffected, but not in a way that would narrow our appeal to others. The suggestion that we have to choose between winning votes from UKIP or winning votes from Labour and the Lib Dems is quite false, locally as well as nationally.
Socialists (of all parties) like to caricature the debate about arts subsidies as being pro or anti the arts. The idea that unsubsidised art might be better than the subsidised alternative is a notion not even to be contemplated. If a theatre was not subsidised would it necessarily close? Or would it have to put on plays that the public actually wanted to see? There are plenty of successful unsubsidised theatres.
The critique on arts subsidies by Sir Kingsley Amis from over 30 years ago still applies. He said arts subsidies cause:
"...plays without plots, a canvas entirely covered with black paint offered as a picture, poems that are meaningless patterns of letters - I needn't go on."
Local councils around the country spew out vast sums of money in this area. Often Conservative councils have managed to maintain their art funding by being more efficient. I can understand why this is a point of pride. But whether their arts spending is of any benefit is dubious. In the ward I represent, Ravenscourt Park, there is POSK, the Polish Cultural Centre. It thrives with many artistic events. It has a theatre, a jazz cafe. There is dancing, cabaret, exhibitions. It has no sibsidy from the council or anyone else that I know of.
There were a dozen of us in a side room in the local pub for a branch meeting to discuss the election results. Our constituency chairman and county council candidate, Roger Hickford, had defeated the Lib Dem incumbent by one vote in the highest turnout in the region, the year after he had beaten the same opponent by the same margin in the district council. One vote, two years in succession, and surely unique. UKIP had 11.%. We had put four leaflets through every door in the constituency over a period of around three weeks, on district and county issues.
All of us had put in at least thirty hours of canvassing, persuasion, writing and downright footslogging, and some several times that. At a by-election in Balsham, Andrew Fraser had beaten the same persistent LibDem candidate by nine votes after a similar, all-out effort. Late in the day, Vicky Ford MEP phoned to say that the Balsham Conservatives had knocked on every door in the village. So, two seats won, and the culmination of a local campaign against Liberal dominance that started five years ago. We are grateful
to Cllr Richard Barrett, who now probably counts as a veteran, for making sure that we tell the electorate that Conservative councillors will work for everyone, whether they voted for us or not.
There was an excellent piece (£) in the Sunday Times yesterday by Harriet Sergeant about the scandal of children in care. While there is much to be angry and depressed she also identifies a few slivers of hope. rather than simply wallowing in gloom also considering what could be - to an extent is being - done to improve things.
We could start by asking a simple question: given all the problems with the care system, why are more children not adopted? The government has made moves in this direction but the numbers are a trickle when they should be a flood.
Unfortunately, social workers see the bond with the birth mother as all-important and adoption by a usually middle-class couple as suspect. It is just one example where ideology comes first and the interests of the child a poor second.
There was an appalling decision recently by Labour councillors in Radstock not to fly the English flag on St George's Day on the grounds it was offensive to Muslims.
The Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has written the following letter to Cllr Eleanor Jackson about it.
I was disappointed to read today that you have been instrumental in the decision of Radstock Town Council to ban the flying of the Cross of St George. You have been reported as asserting that the flag is offensive to Muslims and that the flag has been hijacked by the far Right.
This is a spectacular misjudgement by your council. Whatever one’s class, colour or creed, the St George’s flag is a unifying symbol for England, which is one of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom.
I am pleased to see that Muslim groups have rightly criticised the decision of your council. Indeed, stupid actions like banning the flag just serves to create false misconceptions that certain faith groups “aren’t English or British”, which extremists then exploit in their propaganda. Rather than helping, your actions and comments have undermined community cohesion in our nation and you have given fuel to hatred, and brought the fine town of Radstock into disrepute.
In May 2010, my Department wrote to principal councils actively encouraging the St George’s flag to be flown, such as on national days and during sporting events. Indeed, my department itself routinely flies the flag next to the United Kingdom's Union flag, which in turn is flown in superior position.
Of course, it is not for Ministers in Whitehall to dictate what flags should be flown. The only organisation which forces the flying of flags is the European Commission, which fines people under EC Regulations for not flying the EU flag (a move which makes them look deeply petty). Flying a flag should be a pleasure, not a chore.
This Government has reduced the red tape on flying local, community and national flags to make them easier to fly – including the rainbow flag and local parish flags which you are intending to fly. By all means, please do fly those flags with pride, but I would ask that your council considers its misjudged position, and does its bit to rebuild the harm that you have done to community relations in our country.
I am placing this letter in the public domain, given the wider public interest.
The Mayor’s mission is to make London the safest big city on earth. The Mayor's Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC) has set the Metropolitan Police Service the challenge to cut key neighbourhood crimes by 20%, boost public confidence by 20% and cut costs by 20%. Quite simply, the MOPAC 20/20/20 challenge requires the Met to do more with less. London's first ever Police and Crime Plan 2013-16 has outlined our plan to deliver the Mayor's mission.
Since Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s appointment as Commissioner, the Met have made impressive progress – crime is down 6% in the last year alone and serious youth violence has been cut by almost a third. However the budget challenge is unprecedented. Never before has the Met needed to make such large savings – £500 million by 2016. Until now, every Commissioner of the Metropolis has had more resources every year.
Unlike other elected Police & Crime Commissioners around the country (mostly Labour ones), Boris has chosen not to hike the police precept and load more cost on to council taxpayers. In addition the Mayor’s manifesto had a clear pledge to keep officer numbers high – at or around 32,000 – because those numbers are what is needed to keep a growing capital safe. Raising taxes or slashing police numbers are not options open to MOPAC to balance the books. Nor is another exceptional hand-out from the Home Office likely to be forthcoming.