Lib Dems fail geography

A new year in Rugby was heralded by a new leaflet from our friendly local Lib Dem councillors. The Eastlands edition is full of self back-slapping stories about how they have been fighting crime (ahem – finding a bunch of discarded needles is not the same thing as actually removing  a drugs problem, it’s just noticing one after the fact).

One bit was about how they had acted after complaints from Braids Close about youths hanging around the old College site. The confusing thing about that is that Braids Close is not next to the old College. It’s not even in Eastlands (it’s on the north of the railway off of Ridge Drive). The road name was not only used in the text, but in a photo caption as well.

It’s not obvious whether they meant Brodie Close (part of the new development alongside the college site, off Hopps Lodge Drive), or Bronte Close (behind the college site and where some of the garages are). Maybe they meant a different road completely.

Along with trying to get some of the glory from Operation Laser (which is part of a national programme and was run by the police) it’s a lovely puff piece but not much more. As per usual, they do the trick of telling you what other people have done (the College, the Police, a bus company) and claiming that it was only through their councillors that anything happened.

Much of what they do in their ‘Focus’ leaflets is to trail stuff that the councils and other agencies are about to do (that they find out about as councillors) and then pretend that it was originated by them. An example was the recent checks on bridges over the old Great Central railway cutting. It’s effective and what the party does all over the country. Whether it will save them from the meltdown that the coalition with the Tories is going to cause will be interesting to see.

Still, it would come across better if they actually knew the name of the roads where people complaining to them lived.

Buses, carers, libraries, youth centres… cut cut cut

The Tories around here really are getting into their stride:

Rural and evening bus services are going to be slashed, thanks to the County Council halving the money they provide. All kinds of people will be affected all over Rugby and the surrounding villages.

At the setting of the Council budget last month, the Tories at Rugby Town Hall claimed that services would be protected and the impact of their changes would be very low. Tell that to the people reliant on Crossroads, which provides respite care for the elderly – the couple in that linked story are also going to lose out with the closure of Abbotsbury care home in Hillmorton.

Consultations are ongoing over which small libraries are going to be closed, and whether to reduce hours at others.

I am also finding out that the County Council is opening consultations on the closure and transfer of many of the county’s youth centres. Hill Street, Fareham Road, Brownsover, Dunchurch and Binley Woods Youth Centres are all under review. Wolston is recommended for closure.

I can see that these cuts are likely to disproportionally affect the most vulnerable – the young, the old, the ill, the poor.

The Tories gleefully wield the knife, and the Lib Dems are backing them (while at the same time crying tears over each local cut in case it costs them votes).

What Clegg should have said

The cuddly yellow Liberal Democrats, darlings in the eyes of the public a mere year ago, held their first Spring Conference since being in government. Clearly they are stung by accusations that they have betrayed the electorate by saying that they would oppose early and fast cuts in spending and that they would oppose increases to tuition fees, only to support early and fast spending cuts and to have Vince Cable propose tuition fees at double to treble the current rate. I mean, it’s not like they meant any of their promises, they weren’t expecting to have to come through with anything. So Clegg, attempting to sell the virtues of a ‘mollifying’ Lib Dem presence said the following in his keynote:

“Would a Government without Liberal Democrats have ended child detention? Got an extra ten billion out of the banks? Would it have held a referendum on the voting system? Or put up capital gains tax? Ordered an inquiry into torture? Brought in a pupil premium? Or replaced Control Orders? Would a Government without Liberal Democrats have cut taxes for the poorest?
I don’t think so.”

I bet that raised a hearty cheer. But before cheering it, let us go through this passage bit by bit (it’s been a while since I did a proper Fisk) and see how true it really rings: Read the rest of this entry »

To Craig Humphrey: An apology and a warning

In a recent post, I made a mistake. It’s something I should have known not to do, but for some reason I thought perhaps things might be different in Rugby from Crawley. My mistake? To take a Lib Dem at face value.

Thankfully, Ish has shown me the error. You see, I read a letter in the Rugby Advertiser in which Cllr Neil Sandison says (amongst other things) that Craig Humphrey had suggested to the Boundary Commission that the next Borough Elections, due in May 2011, be suspended.

What Cllr Sandison did not say was where the suggestion had actually originally come from. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s called a coup

This week’s Advertiser had another batch of letters about the Craig Humphrey affair. One was in his favour, the rest were critical. By far the most revealing was that from Neil Sandison, who is a Lib Dem councillor for Eastlands. As well as being unhappy about the total lack of decent response to the public outcry at last week’s meeting, he had some points that leave me very, very concerned. Read the rest of this entry »

Lib Dems in play confusion

The latest copy of the Rugby Observer featured two stories about play areas on page 9.

One was a story about a group of youngsters who have organised a petition to call for improvements to the play area in Rokeby, on the corner of Southbrook Road and Belmont Road. This was encouraged by the Hillside and Rokeby Community Association (HARCA).The petition was handed it to Sue Roodhouse, a local Liberal Democrat councillor and also a member of HARCA. She is shown posing for a photo opportunity with the kids.

The second story is about how Government cuts announced this week will mean that existing schemes to improve the provision of play areas in Rugby have been scrapped – including a project at Parkfield Road in Newbold.

Local Lib Dems are going to have to be a bit careful nowadays. It’s easy to whip up a little local campaign, but it doesn’t look so good when it’s doomed to failure by the same party’s coalition government, does it?

Posted in Politics. Tags: , . 3 Comments »

Clegg – liar liar, pants on fire

He’s not having a good time of it, is he? There’s been the whole Forgemasters debacle, where he supported the cancellation of a loan that has caused damage to his own constituents in Sheffield. To make that worse, he was disingenuous about the reasons for his support. He claimed that the directors wouldn’t agree to dilute their shareholdings, until proof came that they had agreed. He said the money wasn’t there, until proof came out that the Treasury had the money. He claimed it was done in the wrong manner, before proof came out that the civil servants had signed off the loan as being all above board.

When he ran out of excuses he ended up bumbling at the Despatch Box and calling the whole point of Prime Minister’s Questions into question (it’s not there for the personal opinions of the PM or whoever is deputising, it’s there to provide answers from the Government as a whole). One thing we do know is that a businessman from the area, who wanted to do a deal with Forgemasters before the loan came along and who and donated a large amount of money to the Tories before the election, wrote a letter to ask that the loan be cancelled.

And now he’s in a new pickle. Before the election, Vince Cable and Nick Clegg were telling voters that cutting spending too early was dangerous. “Economic masochism” he called it. But after the election, he went along with deep and immediate cuts.

For some time he was telling us that the situation had changed and things were worse than he’d thought. Yet figures that came out in June showed that the deficit was lower than expected, and we now know that economic growth was higher. He claimed that Mervyn King had a chat with him and that had changed his mind as a result of dire new information and advice from the head of the Bank of England. But Mr King has since stated that he didn’t tell Clegg anything in private that he hadn’t earlier said at a press conference that was widely reported.

Now it seems that Clegg actually changed his mind some time during the election campaign. Which means (if we can take his latest story at face value), that he spent at least some of the time lying to voters – telling them that he would oppose something that he actually secretly supported.

It’s odd, at the very time he was being hailed as a breath of fresh air, as the ‘honest’ man among the three main leaders during the televised debates, it seems that he didn’t believe what he was saying to the electorate. He was at the height of popularity in late April, and by the end of July he’s been revealed as being utterly shallow.

Meanwhile, our PM is doing a tour of countries, each of which sees him pander to their views by using undiplomatic terms to describe their rivals, leading to at the very least a lot of muttering in Israel and Pakistan.

And we’ve got another four years and nine months of this?

We don’t need no Graduation (Tax)

So, we are back to the debate about how to pay for higher education. And the choice being presented is between increasing the tuition fees (to up to £14K a year to do a science degree), and introducing a Graduate Tax. I was opposed to the fees when they were brought in by the 1997 government, and I still am. I wasn’t too happy about the erosion of maintenance grants and their replacement by loans – a process that started under the Major government. When a Graduate Tax was being proposed back in the early 90s I opposed that too.

The problem with a lot of these approaches is that they take the simplistic basis that the only beneficiary of a university education is the student. This is untrue. Society as a whole benefits from having doctors, research scientists, architects, engineers, lawyers*, accountants etc. Companies and other employers have a pool of talent to draw on, and so ‘wealth’ can be created. Indeed, some graduates even become employers on the back of their knowledge and so are providing opportunities for other people to work (and not simply other graduates).

Yes, people with a degree are likely to earn more money as a result than people who do not, and this is a clear direct benefit to graduates. However, as a result, they are already likely to be paying more in taxes on income and consumption than those who do not. So why should they have to pay again through another special tax or through high tuition fees?

Now, of course so far I have simply been arguing against things, and it’s quite reasonable to ask what I would actually support, and how we should expect to pay for an expanded higher education sector**. So here it goes:

Because the whole of society benefits in general, and because one of the main ways in which graduates benefit is financially, why not simply use general taxation? We do it for pre-university education, don’t we? We don’t insist that kids with A-Levels pay extra for staying on for a couple of years more on the basis that they can get a better job as a result. It’s accepted that education up to the age of 18 is publicly funded, not simply because every child and their parents benefit from it, but because the nation as a whole is better off with a more educated populace. For a good thirty years (from 1962 to 1992), we had a system that provided full tuition and additional means tested maintenance grants. The prime beneficiaries of this system were the ‘baby boomer’ generation. In Scotland and Wales there is more public involvement than in England, with no tuition fees for Scotland at all.

But what would be the cost to taxpayers? Well, in 2002/3, there were 1.6 million UK students in undergraduate education in the UK, and by 2006/7 that had risen to 1.8 million (source DCSF). So I’ll assume that there are about 2 million today. Currently the tuition fees are up to £3,125 a year. This means that at the most about £6.25 billion would need to be found to pay the same tuition fees. This is equivalent to adding about 1.5p to the rates of basic Income Tax, NI, or VAT, according to HMRC figures, or a few more pence in the pound on higher rates. My numbers are rough, and over-estimates***, but that should allow some room for the expansion of higher education and increasing costs of tuition.

To supplement the costs, Universities should be encouraged and helped to get more private funding for research, through partnerships as well as from traditional funds like the Wellcome Trust. Indeed, I am far less worried about corporate involvement in universities (as long as it is regulated) than I am about it in schools.

Now, I fully realise that I am proposing a tax-and-spend policy at a time when the new government is embarking on a tax-and-cut policy in an attempt to rapidly reduce the deficit. However, I take a different approach to education than the Tories (and now Lib Dems) do – it should be seen as an investment to improve the ‘asset’ that is an educated society, rather than just as a cost. It may not be a change that is seen as affordable now, but it’s one that I would like to see put in place for the future.

Besides, making the change now would actually add to borrowing, because for the first two years all of the tuition would have to be paid for but the tax would not apply until people graduate and are working, and it would take decades to ramp up to the full revenue stream.

And let’s face it, any politician who graduated before 1999 will not have had to pay tuition fees, and any who graduated before about 1990 went to university in the era of the maintenance grant. If they want to make the system more expensive for students they could at least explain why the old ways were ok for them. Eh, Vince Cable?

* I know that lawyers are not always necessarily seen as a public boon, and certainly a surfeit of them is a very bad thing indeed, but as my girlfriend has an LLB I have to say that not all lawyers are irretrievably rotten. Mind you, she doesn’t work as a lawyer…

** We have seen an increase over the last 20 or so years, and at the moment there’s likely to be a levelling off. There are debates to be had about whether we need nearly 50% of people to get a degree and what degrees they should be taking, but this post is already long enough already. For my part, I think we probably should aim to have as many people living to their potential as possible, and I’ll leave it there for now.

*** Not all UK students in UK universities pay tuition fees, not all courses are full-time or charged at the maximum of £3,125. The figures include mature students, and those at the Open University and the private University of Buckingham

Is Germany a few months ahead of us?

A recently formed coalition between the larger conservatives and a smaller liberal party that has been in power for 8 months is in danger of collapsing, partly over accusations of overly rash cuts in public spending…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/14/angela-merkel-germany-coalition-collapse

Rugby Psephology

I used to do this for Crawley, so following the latest local elections, I’ve compared the results in all of the May Borough elections (I’ve not done any by-elections) to see if there are any patterns and trends by ward (with whether it is in the Town or a rural area in brackets) and by party. It is a little long…

By Ward

The general case over the past five years seems to be consistency. Results have the same each time across all wards, with the only exception being Dunchurch & Knightlow where anti-development Lib Dem Ron Ravenhall and his wife Sally have taken seats the Tories would probably usually win. Because this year’s General Election drew out nearly twice as many voters, the results are somewhat skewed when looking at the details, but even then the winners were pretty much in line with previous years, even if the share of the vote varied in places.

Admirals (Town)

3T, Safe. Usually get 50%, did better last year with Peter Butlin. Labour second, trend is generally down, from 38% in 2006 to 28% last year. Contains new estate of Cawston Grange.

Avon & Swift (Rural)

2T. Very Safe. Consistently 65-68%. Labour slightly ahead of the LDs, when the latter stand.

Benn (Town)

3L. Usually 43-44%, lower this year. LDs just ahead of Tories in second. Greens sometimes stand, only place where vote share went up for them.

Bilton (Town)

3T Safe. 60-66% usually, but lower when David Wright stood, and this year only 49%. LDs have been overtaken by Labour into second recently.

Brownsover N (Town)

2T. Becoming closer. 58% in 2006, 52% in 2008, 46% in 2010. LDs & Lab vie for second place, LDs only 38 votes ahead this year.

Brownsover S (Town)

2L Marginal. 44% in past years, 38% this year. Majorities all less than 50 over Ts. LDs a fair way back in 3rd.

Caldecott (Town)

3LD Marginal, going safe? 44% consistently, Cons usually on 40-42%, slumped to 31% this year. Turnout or forrun name? Lab 3rd,

Dunchurch & Knightlow (Mixed)

2T 1LD. Marginal, going T. Ravenhall name seems to have given LDs seats, otherwise Ts on about 50%. Now Ron has passed on, could well see LDs recede. Lab distant 3rd, Greens even more distant 4th

Earl Craven & Wolston (Rural)

3T. Safe usually 70%. Lower this year, perhaps result of proposal to close local Fire Station. Lab main second party. LDs or Greens get about 10% if they stand

Eastlands (Town)

3LD Safe. Usually 60-70%. Cons second on 20-25%, Lab usually on 11-12% but turnout improved result this year.

Fosse (Rural)

2T. Safe. 70-75% usually lower this year – perhaps turnout, perhaps Fire Station. LDs second by a few percent

Hillmorton (Town)

3T. Usually 44%, but Bill Sewell seems to have large personal vote. LDs have replaced Lab as second place, but they are very close.

Lawford & Kings Newham (Mixed)

2T. Marginal, becoming safer. Was seat of anti-Cement Works campaigner Patricia Wyatt, and she comes second here as an Independent. Lab usually 3rd, but in 2008 BN stood (only time in Borough elections since 2006)

Leam Valley (Rural)

1T. Safe – 80% in 2007, LD stood, but not Lab.

New Bilton (Town)

3L usually about 50% but lower this year, with Cons usually on 30%, LDs up to 22%. In 2008, no T stood, and Greens took 27%. This year both stood, and Greens 4th on 6%.

Newbold (Town)

3L usually 47-48%, 43% this year. Cons slipping from 35% to 30%, LDs usually on about 20% – Greens came 3rd in 2008 taking most of LD vote, this year collapsed to under 5%

Overslade (Town)

3T usually 50-57%, 44% this year. Lad around 25-30%, LDs usually 11-13%, but nearly 20% this year. Greens 5-7% (seem to take votes from LDs)

Paddox (Town)

2LD safe 53-61%. Cons on about 30%, Lab on 10-12%

Ryton-on-Dunsmore (Rural)

1T safe 59%. Lab second on 22%. Patricia Wyatt stood when no election in Lawford, came 3rd on 19%

Wolvey

1T ultra-safe. Over 90%, only challenger was Labour

By Party

Tories – dominate the rural areas, where once Independents used to have a chance. Also do well on the outskirts of town – Hillmorton and Admirals, Bilton and Brownsover North. Also win in the central ward of Overslade. 28 councillors

Labour – based in the north and west part of the core town area – Brownsover South, Newbold, New Bilton & Benn. 10 councillors

Lib Dems – have a clump of wards to the south and easy of the town centre – Caldecott, Eastlands & Paddox. Losing ground in Dunchurch & Knightlow. 9 councillors

Greens – Sometimes can get a good 3rd place, but generally seem to split the vote. It’s not consistent where the split comes from – Labour, Lib Dems or even Tories. Generally losing support since 2007.

BNP – stood once in Lawford & Kings Newham, got 16% (which seems to be the usual peak across the country when they first stand). Hopefully will not stand again

Independents – There used to be four Ind councillors, now none are left. Patricia Wyatt is the only one consistently trying to get back in. Dave Elsom stood as an Independent in Hillmorton in 2008, but for the LDs there this year. He was a Tory some years ago (assuming it’s the same Mr Elsom as I saw on an old report about 2002 elections).

Overall

I can’t see many changing trends at all, the past few years has seen very consistent results over time. I expect that the Tories will get the last seat in Dunchurch when it’s up next (2011?) all else being equal. They could also take Brownsover South from Labour with a small swing. Benn could become a 3-way marginal if the Labour vote slips. However, Labour’s vote was already probably at a low in this period, and certainly they were losing seats that had been won in the 2002-2004 election cycle. So if Labour starts to recover generally, and if people want to protest against a Tory-Lib Dem coalition, chances are that local results will move towards Labour. Of course, we won’t see that until next year at the earliest, and there may be a honeymoon effect for one or other coalition party.

In terms of personal votes, I detect positive ones for Bill Sewell and Peter Butlin of the Tories and the Ravenhalls for the Lib Dems. On the other hand, David Wright seems to be unpopular for the Tories. Other than that, there isn’t much variation in each ward, so for the most part it looks like people are voting by party.

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