Friday, 2 April 2010

Focus on battle for Stoke Central

Last night one of Mandelson’s favourites, Tristram Hunt, won a questionable selection contest to take the Labour candidacy in Stoke Central.

The selection panel did not allow any local contenders on the shortlist.

Fed up of being pushed around by the national party Stoke Central constituency Labour party secretary Gary Elsby has just said he’ll stand against Hunt as an independent.

I’ve no doubt that some of the people that opted for Hunt would have voted for a local candidate if they’d have had the chance.

But the news has raised the possibility of a more significant situation.

The battle between Elsby and Hunt will split the Labour vote meaning a challenge from the BNP will carry a higher chance of success.

The nationalists have a sturdy following in Stoke and a strong presence on the city council.

It’s not a coincidence that the BNP deputy party leader Simon Darby is their candidate for the seat.

People have been watching Nick Griffin in Barking up until now as the main threat from the BNP, now there are two fronts.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Hunt is on...

The battle for the Labour candidacy in Stoke Central will be kicking off pretty soon.

It looks like the shortlist has been set up to give the seat to Mandelson’s choice Tristram Hunt – the TV historian.

The other two candidates are Saj Malik, a councillor from Oxford, and Joe Ukemenam – a guy that works for the UN.

Hunt (pictured looking mysterious)will walk it I imagine, but it looks like Ukemenam isn’t afraid of pointing out the reason why.

In his address to the party faithful he states:

I have no special friends amongst the top, rich and powerful in our party…

Not a coincidental statement methinks.

Cheating government department

Spin rarely shocks me anymore, but my jaw dropped when I saw the sheer deceit of a particular press release from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) that was put out last night.

It started all chirpy: Firefighters are better equipped and prepared than ever before.

The project to deliver new FireControl centres that will answer 999 calls to the Fire and Rescue Service and improve public and firefighter safety should continue, according to a Parliamentary Select Committee report published today.

The report concerned FireControl – the Government plan to save loads of cash by closing the UK’s 47 county based fire service centres and replacing them with nine regional ones.

Yet DCLG have taken the one thing that could possibly have been twisted in their favour from this report – that it said the project should continue – and utterly warped it into a positive story.

What the report really said was that FireControl was “inadequately planned, poorly executed, and badly managed”.

In fact, it was such a hideous, abomination of a financial fiasco, the report says, that it would now be more expensive to scrap it than to continue.

The report said the scheme was costing DCLG £423 million, more than triple the original price tag, and that forecasted savings had fallen by around two-thirds.

Rather than save cash overall as first expected, FireControl is now predicted to saddle the taxpayer with a £240 million loss.

In fact, the cost to the taxpayer of this mega-botch could be up to £1.4 billion – because DCLG is already having to lease the new regional centre buildings even though they’re not in use.

Better equipped fire fighters? Maybe DCLG meant the out-of-use £25,000 coffee machine that they have installed in one of those out-of-use buildings. Unfathomable stupidity.

Here is the real killer – the report claimed DCLG officials tried to withhold documents from the inquiry in a bid to hide their incompetence.

No surprise, I suppose, after seeing the mendacious press release they put out.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Straw operates...

Lobbydog quizzed Labour stalwart Jack Straw last night on how close he was to Geoff Hoon’s plotting against Gordon Brown.

I wanted to know how he looked and sounded when the allegations made in Andrew Rawnsley’s book – that in 2008 he and Hoon had sought to topple Brown, but later changed their minds – were put to him in front of a room of people.

As you may remember the book, The End of the Party said Straw had met with Stephen Byers and Charles Clarke to discuss the issue.

Straw had allegedly indicated to Byers that he and the chief whip, Geoff Hoon, would "take action before the party conference" in the autumn of 2008.

The plan apparently fell apart when Hoon was bought off with the offer of an EU Commissioner’s job that never came through.

When I first asked Straw about the allegations he replied that Hoon had in no way contacted him about the most recent botched coup with Patricia Hewitt.

I pointed out that this was not what I had asked about and that in the book…

“I like my bedtime reading to be something that is not absolutely to do with work,” he joked.

Eventually getting to the crux he said: “In the period between the Crewe by-election and the Glasgow East by-election there were a lot of conversations amongst people.

“Those were to do with the fact that one was caught in a very difficult situation not to do with plotting a coup. I was never involved in one, and I haven’t been.”

Make of that what you will.

Straw faced a whole bunch of tough questions during the briefing but managed to answer them all without losing his demeanour, without losing his sense of humour and without putting any hacks' backs up.

It’s no wonder he’s been around for such a long time – he’s one of the few Labour politicians to have survived a stint at the Home Office.

Wonder where he’ll be May 7th?

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

That £150 National Insurance pledge

Lobbydog was at a briefing with Phil Hammond yesterday picking over details of the Tory “7 out 10 people will be £150 better off” pledge.

During the briefing I discovered an interesting insight into their £150 figure.

LD: You’ve made the assertion about people being £150 better off, which I’m assuming relates to National Insurance only.

But have you done any work more generally. Are you still confident making that statement in relation to the overall tax burden and to other handouts that people get – welfare, tax credits and so on?

Will people still be so much better off taking everything into account?

Hammond: To answer that question in a complicated way – there are two affects. And you’re probably right to point out that actually if people pay less NIC they may be eligible for slightly less top up credits, for example, so that’s a fair point to make.

But on the other hand the IFS say that the reduction in employers’ National Insurance contribution will feed through into higher wages as the Labour market starts to recover. So there will always be second order effects from all of these changes.

The top line is that most people are going to be £150 better off in 2011/12 than they would have been.

So because people will pay less NIC, they may also get less top up tax credits – giving with one hand and taking away with the other, critics will say.

Those same critics would go on to say that relying on private companies to make up any difference by increasing wages seems very hopeful. Wage rises are not high on many bosses’ agendas right now.

In truth, unless one knows all the numerical workings behind the pledge, it’s difficult for me, or anyone, to say whether people would be a few pounds better or worse off after all the “second order effects” had taken place.

Putting figures aside though, the policy does represent this – a decision to let people keep money they earn and use it as they see fit, rather than having to hand it to the Government and receive it back as a hand out.

That is something that should appeal to Tory voters.

Monday, 29 March 2010

LD readers move against Hewitt...

Last week readers of this blog called for a campaign to convince companies employing Pat Hewitt to dump her.

The calls came after it emerged that Hewitt had won a fifth board-room appointment, this time with Eurotunnel – she already works for Boots, BT, Cinven and Barclays Capital.

That is despite her appearance in the TV programme that blew open the “lobbygate” scandal.

Your comments were picked up by The Independent who yesterday reported how letters had already started to find their way to at least one of Hewitt’s employers.

What a pro-active bunch you are.

Eurotunnel didn’t exactly seem rocked to the core by the threat of the letter writing campaign.

But a spokesman admitted to LD today that it would, in the end, be shareholders who decided Hewitt’s fate at a vote on May 26.

So keep writing I say. The more letters that are written the more likely it is that they will have an impact.