A loss of Faith

Thursday the 3rd of May 2007 saw Scots hit the polling stations as they cast their vote for not just the Scottish Parliament but also for their Local Government officials. It was a day of high drama and excitement as all waited and watched with baited breathe to see who would be declared first minister of Scotland; dull and predictable Jack McConnell or the smarmy and conceited Alex Salmond. An exciting and most interesting campaign had been waged and all were eager for the drama over the results, sadly politicians of all parties were upstaged not by votes cast but by those spoilt. Over 140,000 ballot papers were rejected in the Parliamentary elections alone with a further 40,000 or so in the local council elections. On the 4th of May people were not talking about the SNP’s one seat advantage over Labour, but about the total shambles of the electoral system in Scotland.

As Mr Salmond settles into Bute House and begins to shape his misguided plans to divide Scotland from the rest of the UK, the Electoral Commission has launched an enquiry into the disturbing events of May 3rd. Such a mass spoiling of ballot papers requires deep investigation and the public the right to answers. Considering that at the first election for Holyrood in 1999 only 15,000 votes were spoilt compared to almost 180,000 this year, one wonders what could possibly have changed?

There were several differences this time round, and it certainly looks as though they were not for the better, for Scotland or for its people. The ballot papers for the elections this year had been redesigned which may have led to some small confusion, the electronic counting methods introduced could also have counted for some number of rejected slips, but what many people feel to be the real reason was the decision to hold the local council elections on the same day. David Mundell MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, is counted among them and has gone so far as to say that what happened that sunny day in Scotland was an “affront to democracy” and that, “We need to ensure that this ludicrous situation is never allowed to happen again in Scotland or anywhere else in the UK”. Both the Conservative party and the SNP have called for a separate independent investigation into the fiasco which Douglas Alexander MP, the Secretary of State for Scotland, has not ruled out. He has also vowed to make a public apology if the electoral commission finds that the blame lies with the Scotland Office, though it is not hard to regard this as too little too late.

A study by Strathclyde University into the matter has uncovered evidence that suggests that the more deprived the area the more ballot papers were spoilt and have drawn links between poverty and the number of rejected voting slips. For instance in the Stirling constituency only 1.9% of votes were rejected (numbering 633 ballot papers) where as in Glasgow Shettleston an incredible 12.09% were rejected (making up some 2,035 ballot papers). Nowhere was exempt from the dark shadow of the spoilt ballot paper, however, and in 16 constituencies the number of rejected ballot papers exceeded the winning candidate’s majority! The study’s findings have been sent to the Electoral Commission and to Ron Gould who is heading up its investigation.

The very same Mr Gould, an international expert in the field who has been involved in overseeing over a 100 elections worldwide including the first post-apartheid vote in South Africa, commented recently that, “Democracy depends on public confidence in elections and I hope that my review will help ensure that the people of Scotland can be confident that any lessons are learned for the future”. We can but hope, for as it stands public faith in the electoral system north of the border could hardly have been more shaken and the results of the Electoral Commission’s review in August cannot come fast enough.

Ruth Wilson

One for Milibands Blog?

Just seen this van down by the harbour in Well next the sea.

 I suspect these sentiments won't be appearing on M iliband's DEFRA blog – bit he may not even be at DEFRA this time next week.

It seems that some of the people in Iain Dale's old stomping ground in Norfolk have the ability to say it as it is.

Will the real Harriet Harman please step forward

I have to say that I was more than a little shocked to learn that Labour opted for Harriet Harman as their Deputy. I thought for certain Alan Johnson was going to win – but that shows what I know.

So what exactly do we know about Harman. A Tory Radio listener emailed this extract from a Dods biography done on Harman which I thought was quite interesting.

What do you think of the appointmet? Call 0845 257 0 427 and let us know.

Harriet Harman:-

A somewhat steely feminist and former out-and-out leftist who became one of the leading modernisers, she came from an upper middle-class background to spearhead the feminising drive within the Labour Party.

Born in 1950, daughter of a Harley Street consultant and niece of the late Lord Longford, she went to the exclusive St Paul's Girls' School and read politics at York University. She trained as a solicitor and was legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties for four years.

She married Jack Dromey, now deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, in 1982 and in the same year was elected for Peckham, one of the poorest constituencies in the country, scene of gangland violence and the murder in 2000 of the ten-year-old Nigerian boy Damilola Taylor.

A fluent speaker, she was on the front bench within two years, and rose quickly through the Party’s election systems to the National Executive Committee and the Shadow Cabinet from 1992. She was Opposition spokeswoman for relatively short periods for Treasury, Health, Employment and Social Security.

She and her husband have three children. In 1996 their decision to send one of them to a selective grammar school outside the borough caused outrage in the Labour Party, making it vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy. Her reputation with the left has never quite recovered.

On holiday!

We are currently in Wells next the sea – which I believe is part of Iain Dale's old stomping ground of North Norfolk.

A beautiful part of the world – however we have both just got drenched from head to tow due to the lovely British weather at the moment.

We really shouldn't complain, as our journey down here was really uneventful which is alot more than can be said for these poor people. It gives a new definition to the phrase sh*t service!

Is banning ever the answer?

 I always believed that Conservatives naturally had a liberal tendency and would allow people to live their lives as they saw fit as long as it didn’t impinge on the freedom of to others to live theirs, and socialism was all about controlling people. That’s what attracted me to the Conservative Party.

 

In a week’s time smokers will no longer be able to light up in public. That’s right – just 7 days left. I have to say I have mixed feelings about it. I have never smoked – and think it’s a pretty disgusting habit. If anyone comes to our house if they want to smoke they go outside. That’s down to the fact that I used to have bad Asthma as a kid, and still can’t stand to be in a smoky room for any amount of time.

 

Times have certainly changed. I can remember as a kid flying to America and sitting just behind the smoking section on the plane.(though I never really got how you could have a smoking section of a plane where the air was re-circulated. It certainly wasn’t a pleasant experience.)

 

These days there can’t be anyone who doesn’t know the health issues associated with smoking. I am also one of those people who believes (there are some deniers) that second hand smoke is dangerous. However I am very wary of going down the line of banning things.

 

Cigarettes and tobacco are legally sold in this country, so why can’t the Government legislate for certain “public places” to be allowed smoking – and I as a rationale person who doesn’t like the habit won’t visit.

 

We are visiting Wells Next The Sea for a short break and have chosen a completely non smoking tiny hotel. Why can’t some hotels be completely smoking if they are small guest houses whose owners smoke who want to appeal to smokers – is that allowed?

 

Why can’t a pub have a completely enclosed smokers room with filters on that staff don’t have to enter? That way smokers can happily do what they enjoy?

 

What really annoys me is the hypocrisy of it all. Smoking is bad – so they ban it (well in public places as they still want the tax from the sales). Alcohol is bad – so they want to put warnings on the bottles (but open up the pubs 24 hours). Certain food is bad – so they want to put traffic light labelling on it and ban so called junk food ads to kids (but I bet you they will take money from some  of those companies selling “junk food” to pay for the Olympics).  They want to do something about childhood obesity (but school playing fields get sold).

 

Isn’t about time that we started treating people like adults. You can let them know about the danger of unhealthy eating, drinking too much alcohol, smoking – but if they then choose not to change their behaviour we have to let them take the consequences.

Brown must keep referendum promise says MEP

 "Where's Our Referendum?"  That's the message that went to Westminster today, in letters two feet high as an ad-van carrying the demand "Don't let them sign away more powers to Europe!" rolled up outside the Houses of Parliament at 10:00 a.m.

The van was an initiative of Conservative MEP Roger Helmer, who is calling on Gordon Brown to fulfil Labour's clear Manifesto Commitment to offer the British people a referendum on the EU Constitution.  Tony Blair is expected to sign a revised EU Constitution in Brussels today.

The original EU Constitution was roundly rejected by French and Dutch voters in mid-2005.  But in a recent leaked letter, the European Council's President-in-Office, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, spoke of making "presentational changes" and using "different terminology with the same legal effect", such as calling the Constitution a Treaty, and replacing the Charter of Fundamental Rights with "a one-line cross reference having the same legal effect".  In a speech in the European parliament on June 7th, Helmer described Merkel's letter as "dishonest and deceitful", attracting sharp criticism from the German President of the parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering MEP.

After a two-year "reflection period", EU leaders are determined to bring back most of the substance of the failed Constitution, but to deny voters a say.  They will argue that this merely a conventional Treaty, not a Constitution, and therefore does not require ratification by referendum.  Yet it is expected to contain much of the previous content, including a permanent President, a Foreign Minister, a legal personality, and the dropping of vetoes in a wide range of policy areas.

Mr Helmer is determined to remind Gordon Brown that the promise of a Constitutional referendum was made not only by Tony Blair personally as Prime Minister, but was a specific manifesto commitment by Labour at two successive general elections.  "We will put (the Constitution) to the British people in a referendum", they said.  This commitment is therefore equally binding on Gordon Brown when he moves to Number Ten.

Speaking alongside his ad-van today, which will then proceed on a tour throughout the East Midlands, Mr Helmer said:

"Gordon Brown cannot pretend that calling it a Treaty and making a few cosmetic changes can justify breaking Labour's firm commitment to the British people.  Brown must call a referendum".

Asked about hints from Gordon Brown associates that the new Prime Minister might agree to a referendum, Mr Helmer replied:

"This sounds to me more like choreography than concession.  I think it's spin.  They're softening us up for parliamentary ratification without a referendum.  We can't let them get away with it".

Roger Helmer is an MEP representing the East Midlands, and is Honorary Chairman of The Freedom Association, which is strongly backing the referendum demand.  He is also associated with the National Committee for a Referendum, a cross-party organisation of British parliamentarians — Lords, MPs and MEPs — who are making the same demand.

YOU CAN VISIT ROGERS BLOG HERE

Roger Helmer on the campaign trail

Roger Helmer is on the campaign trail to ensure we get a Referendum on a proposed European constitution. You can see the logo he is using below which will be winging its way throughout the country.

At the time of writing (10:00am) Roger is holding a photocall near to Parliament.

 Make sure you check out Roger's blog which you can find here, for more details later today

Shot across the bows of a European constitution

I've been led to believe there will be a "shot across the bows" of any moves towards a European constitution, taking place tomorrow.

For those of you who happen to be in London, you may went to head to  Old Palace Yard at 10:00am.

More on this tomorrow!

Expenses scandal…. part two

Now the ACA allowance isn’t solely to cover the cost of MP’s having second home – however I would suggest it would form the major portion of it.

If we look at the two most powerful Labour politcians we see some interesting figures:-

                                                                  Blair                                     Brown

Year to March                2006                    8,399                                     18,681
                                     2005                    16,417                                   20,285
                                     2004                    15,490                                   14,304
                                     2003                    19,538                                   17,688
                                     2002                     8,001                                    11,186

Total over the five years                           £67,845                                  £82,144

Just what are Tony and Gordon spending this money on? Are they saying their constituency residences are their second home – or is it on their Downing Street pads???

 

Expenses scandal to hit Parliament?

 Iain Dale recently wrote an interesting piece on the transparency (or current lack of it) with regards to MP's expeneses.

Speaking to someone today in the Commons it appears that if moves towards more transparency succeed certain MP's may well be more than a little embarassed by the situation even though they have followed the rules.

According to Parliament's own website,

"The Additional Costs Allowance (cost of staying away from main home/ ACA) is paid to reimburse Members for necessary costs incurred when staying overnight away from their main home for the purpose of performing parliamentary duties. Inner London Members do not receive this allowance."

That's all well and good – however someone really should ask the question as to why any of the longer serving MPs who may well have had a second home in London for quite some time would ever be claiming near the maximum. Surely the mortgage they took out some time ago would now seen relatively very small and therefore the interest payments would be low too. Apparently there are cases of MP's buying antique furniture at our expense too

I've also been led to believe that more than a few MPs have actually remortgaged their second property (whose mortgage is effectively covered by the taxpayer) as a way to release equity built up in it, leading to an increase cost to the taxpayer with the new larger mortgage being paid out of the Additional Costs Allowance

Whilst this may be seen to be within the rules – surely this is morally wrong.

And can it really be true that the Additional Costs Allowance has been used to cover certain accomodation just off Whitehall with a policeman stood outside? Surely not.

I'm sure this isn't the last we've heard on this one!