Friday, June 26, 2009

Housing Stock Transfer: what is our party line?

The short answer is: there isn't one (writes Frank Little). I believe that if Anthony Taylor, who challenged me on his blog last Thursday to state the Liberal Democrat position, examines Labour Party national policy, he will find that this is true of his own party, too. (That is not to say that there haven't been Labour party conference votes against it, back in pre-Blair/Brown days.)

The more finessed answer is that the Liberal Democrats recognise Large Scale Voluntary Transfer (LSVT) as just one component of a flexible housing policy. What we have always (from the time of the Thatcher Housing Bill which introduced LSVT) objected to are the outdated, skewed rules on local authority spending and ridiculous public borrowing regulations which load the dice against council investment in public housing.

Some Liberal Democrat housing authorities in England certainly have embraced LSVT, usually as a result of taking control from a Labour council which left its housing in a mess, from which only injection of commercial capital could redeem it.

We are certainly not in favour of well-run and financially stable housing departments being disbanded for ideological reasons. We resent the government bullying councils into holding ballots by fiscal measures or (in the case of Wales) by setting too-high quality standards.

The former leader, Derek Vaughan, and the council's senior officers made repeated attempts at a financial compromise which would have enabled Neath Port Talbot to retain and still improve its housing stock. WAG was intransigent. It is disingenuous to blame this on a Plaid housing minister in the coalition government. It is clearly the Labour government in Westminster which is pulling the strings.

The alternative to holding a ballot this year was a loss of at least one central grant. The least bad alternative on offer to retaining council stock was a cooperative mutual. That was the clear message from the council leader last October, and that was reflected in the Liberal Democrat councillors' vote then. Note that we only signed up to the ballot process, and to the alternatives to be presented to the tenants. We did not promise to campaign for one side or the other, and we certainly reserved the right to question details during the process.

I used the term "conscience" of Cllr Keith Davies' choice to support the "No" campaign. It would be more accurate to state that the difference between us is one of "judgment", in particular that of how much it would cost the council to raise properties to the Welsh Housing Quality Standard and what financial penalties would be imposed by the government if we didn't achieve a "Yes" vote. I believe there will be a large financial downside, Cllr Davies does not.

Note that neither of our public stances conflicts with the vote we cast in council last year. Since there is no official Liberal Democrat policy on LSVT, for or against, there was no need for Cllr Davies to notify the party of his campaigning for "No", yet he did so out of courtesy.

I am pleased to see that Cllr Taylor is an enthusiast for the cooperative mutual model of housing corporation. This, if I remember correctly, emerged at the grass-roots in Liverpool, probably before Cllr Taylor was born, as a response to the failed central planning of Liverpool Labour's housing department (and, of course, the private rented sector of the time). I don't know that the prime movers were Liberals, but they were certainly acting in the "bottom-up" manner of Liberal politics.

Cllr Taylor's enthusiasm is not shared by several of his Labour colleagues. They are viscerally opposed to losing control of council housing, as private conversations and some of their pointed questions at seminars show. The difference between us and them is that we can express our differences in public without fear of retribution from a party "Star Chamber".

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stock transfer ballot - group position

Following Cllr Keith Davies's decision for personal and constituency reasons to support the "No" campaign, the Liberal Democrat councillor group decided today not to impose a "party line" on the issue. Members will be free to campaign according to their conscience.

Cllr Keogh joins Labour

Word-of-mouth has it that Councillor Dennis Keogh (Ratepayer, Port Talbot) has joined the Labour group on Neath Port Talbot CBC.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Aberavon AM to stand down

Dr Brian Gibbons has decided not to seek re-election to the Welsh Assembly in 2011. The BBC story is here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Phone Nick Clegg

There is a phone-in on Radio 4's "You and Yours" tomorrow. More details on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Mick Bates AM to retire at next election

The Wales Online report is here. We understand that he wants to spend more time with his family and on his farm.

Frank Little writes: I hope this resigning from the cockpit of daily politics does not mean that Mick is lost to party activity altogether. His contributions to Liberal Democrat conferences are virtually guaranteed to liven proceedings. Although his enthusiasm for wind power generation goes farther than I would, there is no doubting that he has given a major boost to green politics in Wales from a time when it was not as main-stream as it is now.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Labour leaders hanging on

Rhodri Morgan has given himself a get-out clause. He said at the Assembly Elections that he would retire on his seventieth birthday. He has changed his tune. In case of a "force majeure", he will stay on and Huw Lewis AM has begged him to stay on beyond Autumn

Now former Neath Port Talbot council leader Derek Vaughan has announced that he will not give up his Neath North seat until there is a general election to "save tax-payer money" on polling costs. We say that the real reason is to save an embarrassing loss of a council seat in a period when Labour is under constant attack.

All the signs are that a tired and discredited Gordon Brown will hang on to power until the law forces him to hold an election. That will be in June 2010. Do the math. The hard-working people of Neath North will have a lame-duck councillor for twelve months. How can Derek Vaughan work for his constituents in Brussels where he will be on a steep learning curve in the Euro Parliament?

We say to Derek Vaughan: do the right thing by democracy and the people of Neath North. Go now!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Make votes count press release

"The Prime Minister's statement on democratic reform was not as bold as billed; in fact on electoral reform he has been far more timid than the circumstances demanded. There is a real urgency to implementing reforms, to restore public trust in MPs and in politics as a whole.

"Voters have shown they are impatient with the main parties, and want real change in the way we do politics. So why does the Prime Minister continue to dither on opening up the debate and on timescales for implementing electoral reform?

"Gordon Brown talks the language of quick change and ending the Gentleman's Club when it comes to expenses. But he fails to bring that approach to the other area MPs still self-regulate and is now under scrutiny - the way in which MPs are elected.

"Elections affect all of us. Decisions on how they are conducted certainly shouldn't be in the hands of the politicians, whether those on the National Council for Democracy or on the Opposition benches, whose jobs-for-life are at stake. Is it no surprise that David Cameron is leading the resistance to change: he and his party stand to benefit the most from the status quo. It is more of a surprise that Brown wasn't even willing in his statement to repeat the 1997 Labour manifesto promise of a referendum on the introduction of a proportional voting system.

"The Prime Minister talks about starting up the debate on electoral reform. But we've been having that debate for over ten years. In January 2008 the Government published as "a contribution to the ongoing debate" its long-awaited review of those proportional voting systems already introduced. The Alternative Vote Plus (AV+) was a system recommended by the Jenkins Commission back in 1998 after long and careful deliberations involving plenty of opportunities for public engagement and debate.

"There is still just enough time left for completing an open public debate and then holding a referendum before or at the time of the next election. The referendum would give voters the chance to register their feelings twice: once to get rid of a tainted MP in the General Election; and once in a referendum to choose whether to get rid of a rotten system and change things for good.

"Even after his statement [on Wednesday], Gordon Brown still has the opportunity to be bold and start exploring this referendum option; to show he is able to go beyond the self-interest of the political elite and give power back to the man and woman on the street."

MVC's Welsh campaigns officer, Owain Llyr ap Gareth, has an article in the Western Mail.

We still believe that STV is a better electoral system, in that it allows voters to choose between candidates of the same (or no) party. Nor do AV systems threaten "safe" seats. However, we can hardly object if the proposal of the Jenkins Commission is put before the electorate in a referendum. The commission was set up as the result of an agreement between Labour and the Liberal Democrats before the 1997 general election, and was chaired by a distinguished member in turn of both parties.

Monday, June 08, 2009

First thoughts on the European Parliament elections

Of course, the results for Liberal Democrats in Neath and Aberavon were disappointing. We were not alone, though. There was a small rise in the percentage vote in Wales but in England it was down, and, across Europe, Liberal parties suffered losses (though we don't seem to have lost MEPs in Britain). It looks as if ELDR no longer holds the balance of power in Brussels/Strasbourg. However, the rise in the size of the Green bloc means that the Conservative and Socialist groupings will still not have things all their own way.

In both our constituencies, the BNP came within one hundred votes of Liberal Democrats. This is not, I would suggest, due to my talking up the BNP by drawing attention to their dangers or mocking their electoral communications, but as a result of the party targeting Neath. Their two leafleting campaigns clearly achieved the desired publicity, including good coverage in the Evening Post, colour photographs and all.

Labour bucked the national trend by topping the poll here and pushing the Conservatives into third place, just ahead of UKIP. Plaid Cymru will draw satisfaction from being a very good second.

I hear Labour spokespeople blaming the exposure of MPs' expenses for their poor showing overall. Sorry, but that won't wash. Tories were just as mired in that scandal as Labour - indeed, the most headline-grabbing claims were by Conservatives - yet they topped the poll in Wales and did well in England.

And, finally, Welsh has a gender-balanced representation in the EP. Kay Swinburne of the Conservatives and Jill Evans of Plaid make up for Derek Vaughan for Labour and John Bufton of UKIP.

Frank Little

The full figures are now available on the council's web-site as pdf files: for Aberavon, and for Neath.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Why do the Tories resist PR?

We in Wales already realise the benefits of even a nobbled system of proportional representation to the Conservative Party. Without the top-up list, they would have had no more than one representative in the first Assembly, when there was clearly widespread support for the party across Wales. The party can now point to five AMs elected directly from a constituency, but would it have achieved this success without the credibility which eight AMs elected from the regional list in 1999 gave them? One of those was, and continues to be, Nick Bourne, their leader.

Now comes a beautiful example from last week's English local elections of first-past-the-post benefitting Liberal Democrats to the detriment of the Tories. This table shows the results from Cambridge City wards:

June 2009

Stood Elect U/O Votes %
Conservative 14 0 0 7153 21.7
Labour 14 2 0 6930 21.0
Liberal Democrat 14 11 0 12121 36.7
Green 14 1 0 5159 15.6
UKIP 3 0 0 475 1.4
Independents and Others 2 0 0 1181 3.6
Totals 61 14 0 33019 37.4

I reckon that means that LD have 0.91 seats per 1000 votes, Labour 0.29, Green 0.19 and UKIP & the Tories zero.

Look at it another way: in Cambridge it takes only 1,102 voters to put a Liberal Democrat in, but nearly 3,500 for Labour and infinity for the Conservatives!

Frank Little

Friday, June 05, 2009

Labour finish behind Monster Raving Loonies in Cambridgeshire

St Ives

Result summary
Reynolds, Kevin AntonyConservative2553

Pegram, Dennis RoyConservative2307

Hodge, David FrederickLiberal Democrat1543

Waters, Robin SherwoodLiberal Democrat1412

Jug, Lord TobyThe Official Monster Raving Loony Party566

Allen, Richard JohnLabour362

Richards, Angela LouiseLabour343

Dennis Roy Pegram (Conservative) and Kevin Antony Reynolds (Conservative) have been elected to serve the St Ives Electoral Division

Swing per Party

Conservative: +9.18%Liberal Democrat: -0.27%Labour: -8.5%

[From ]

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Huhne claims Tory MEPs endanger UK citizens

The Conservative's attitude to the European Arrest Warrant, and to the interchangeability of criminal records within the EU, would threaten the safety of UK citizens, according to Chris Huhne.

Chris writes: "Conservative MEPs voted against the establishment of the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), which standardises the format of criminal records in Europe and allows them to be exchanged quickly between police forces and high risk employers, such as airports.

"It beggars belief that anyone would want to make it more difficult for us to check whether people coming to this country are dangerous criminals."

In South-West Wales we have already seen the effect of the lack of background information on a worker from Poland, who committed a serious sexual offence here.

And, as Nick Clegg argues, in an article by Nik Cohn, "so instinctive is Tory antipathy that Cameron would rather be soft on crime than friends with European allies.

"The Europol police agency has helped break up paedophile rings in the UK, Clegg says. The European arrest warrant allowed the fast-track deportation to Britain of Hussain Osman who had fled to Rome after trying to blow up a tube station. Ordinarily, Tories are against paedophilia and terrorism, but the 'Euro' prefix is enough to make them damn both the agency and arrest warrant."

See more here and here.