Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hazel Thinking Ahead?

Hazel is on what I gather to be her first international fact-finding visit. She is visiting the Indian subcontinent, including India itself, Pakistan and Bangladesh. She claims it is relevant to her current Communities brief, and has been trotting out her usual multicultural gobbledegook: "Like India Britain has a very diverse society and we have a long history of benefiting from and welcoming the talents and contributions of people from all different backgrounds."

However, it still strikes me as bizarre that she is actually doing a proper tour; she's not just visiting one country. Moreover, it's strange that she's doing it in the summer holidays. Could it be that she thinks a vacancy in the Foreign Office might soon be opening up?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

In Defence of Hazel

I don't particularly enjoy doing this, but I think it's only right for me to defend Hazel Blears when she is being unjustifiably attacked. I draw your attention to an article by Soumaya Ghannoushi in The Guardian. The crux of Ghannoushi's argument is that Hazel's plans for a government-funded board of Muslim scholars and thinkers is tantamount to the state dictating the direction of a faith.

I think the idea is a flawed one. I do not think potential extremists are going to take a blind bit of notice of what this body says, and I suspect the scheme will be a failed experiment. However, I think it's right to attempt to amalgamate the dozens and dozens of Islamic organisations in this country in some capacity. Just look at this list and try to work out which is the most important or influential one.

This isn't about wanting to restrict choice, control the faith, or dictate to Muslims. It's about looking at the current situation in a pragmatic way, and realising that there are so many bodies out there that it's impossible for the government or local authorities to deal with them in an effective manner. There might be divisions in the Church of England, but that, by and large, remains a united organisation. I see no reason why it needs to be different for Islam. And the reality is that such a body would actually give a bigger collective voice to Muslims, while simultaneously rooting out those whose views are unacceptable. By coming together in a united fashion the Muslim community could expose the extremists as outcasts, and thus represent the interests of the majority of Muslims while leaving the bag eggs high and dry.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lies and Denial

Hazel's response to the Glasgow East by-election result:

"The easy thing to do in times that are tough - and times are tough - is for a party to cut and run."

This is true. However, the situation Labour are in now is one of their own doing. This isn't a case of circumstances working against them, but their own incompetence doing as such. And when you keep making mistakes, doing things wrong, and are being told left, right and centre that you're not wanted, this is a situation where you should give up and let somebody else have a go. Otherwise you're just fooling yourself and insulting the people who you serve.

"That's not the Labour Party and that's not Gordon Brown."

That's a laugh! This is the man who dithered over an election and then failed to call it when he thought he would lose. The man who wanted to greet the Olympic torch but refused to touch it; signed the Lisbon Treaty in a broom cupboard away from the cameras; and met the Dalai Lama away from Downing Street so he didn't piss off the Chinese.

"I think this election result is a very bad result for us. It's very difficult, but I think it's about the economy."

Truth followed by a lie. This is an appalling result for Labour. Losing Glasgow East would be like the Conservatives losing Tonbridge and Malling. But the whole 'it's the economy' thing is rubbish. Yes, that's part of it. But the government just doesn't seem to understand the multitude of reasons why it is hated.

"Changing faces at the top of the party is not what people expect us to do. The voters are saying that, after 10 years of a pretty good economy, that situation has changed."

Indeed not. People aren't saying change your leader; they are telling you to call and election and get out of the way. And as a final point, where she says "the situation has changed", can be recorded as Hazel officially saying the economy is in a bad state. So the next time she goes on about everything not being as bad as people are saying, she will be contradicting herself.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

More Houses

First of all, apologies for the lack of posts this week. I have been busy with work, and Hazel has been relatively quiet - for her, anyway. There's a story brewing in Oxford, where Hazel has apparently approved 4,000 new houses in the Grenoble Road area. Two Conservative MPs, Tony Baldry and the newly elected MP for Henley John Howell, are protesting her decision.

Oxfordshire is an interesting place politically. For example, Oxford City Council doesn't have a single Conservative councillor on it, and yet 4 out of the 6 MPs who represent Oxfordshire are Conservatives with very safe majorities; this includes David Cameron in Witney. The Lib Dems have one seat in Oxford West and Abingdon, where the sitting MP has a solid majority over the Conservatives; Labour are a distant third. The only Labour constituency in Oxfordshire is Oxford East, where the MP, Andrew Smith, recorded a majority of just 963 over the Lib Dems in 2005.

I don't know the layout of Oxford well, but a simple Google search reveals that the postcodes near and around Grenoble Road all start OX4 4--. And every time I put a postcode that begins in this fashion into an MP-finder, I get the same result. This example is with OX4 4XP. What a surprise; these 4,000 new and apparently affordable homes are to be built in the one Oxfordshire constituency where Labour are holding on by their scrotum.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hypocrisy Much?

Hazel has been talking a lot about shops this week. Apparently, she wants to introduce new tests for planners when considering out-of-town supermarkets, so that independent town centre shops are not threatened. She said:

"Town centres are the hearts of our communities... I want to see our town centres and independent shops busy and thriving and I'm absolutely committed to help defend their future."

This all sounds very nice, but it has little sincerity when coming from a woman who worked in a Tesco store in order to prove how 'normal' she is. According to Hazel, it's okay to bash the supermarkets to win political points, while at the same time exploit their popularity for the sake of her own image. Moreover, a little bit of research proves her hypocrisy even more. Here is the video of her working in Tesco. As you can see, it's a Tesco Metro store, and the only one in Salford. This is a map showing its location. The store is in something called Salford Shopping City, which I gather is some sort of mall in the centre of the city. So not only did Hazel work in a Tesco, she worked in one located in exactly the sort of central location she apparently wants to see preserved for local and independent stores.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

More Nutty Proposals

The latest bit of toilet paper to come from Hazel's department is a White Paper, going by the sexy name of 'Communities in control; real people, real power'. Naturally, one can make the usual point that these proposals aren't about giving local people power at all, but rather making them believe that they have power. But I've had a skim through the document and I'd like to share with you some of the more insane policy ideas. If you're feeling up for a bit of self-flagellation, you can download the document here.

"Local authorities should do more to promote voting in elections, including working with young people through citizenship lessons. We will give councils the power to provide modest incentives for voting – perhaps an entry into a prize draw – as a way of engaging people." (p.5)

Eric Pickles has already commented on this suggestion, but it really is complete rubbish. First of all, the only people who are going to be motivated to vote by a 'modest' incentive are Labour supporters. Isn't this called buying votes? Secondly, people are already pissed off that council taxes across the country are too high. Aren't they going to get even more furious when they learn that even more of their money is being handed out as a bribe to the politically unengaged? And thirdly, Hazel doesn't seem to understand that the people who are really fed up with their lack of power are those who actually do vote, but who then see no end product from their choice.

"We want to see more mayors directly elected and will consult on making it easier for local people to demand a referendum and on reducing restrictions on the frequency of referendums." (p.7)

Hazel loves referendums, providing they have nothing to do with promises made in general election manifestos.

"... empowering young people with a more positive experience of voting through young mayors, the UK Youth Parliament [and] mock elections." (p.25)

Again, all these things preach to the converted. The type of young person who wants to get involved with the UK Youth Parliament is going to be the type who has always been interested in politics. You can't teach that sort of interest and enthusiasm, and you can't force it through seminars, pamphlets and spending money.

"DWP are also working closely with the Create Consortium to look at allowing community organisations to pay people to do work that strengthens their communities without it affecting their benefits." (p.37)

Brilliant! I'm going to quit my job, go on all the benefits I possibly can, and then get a full-time job working for my community. What a great way to effectively get two salaries.

"We will work with the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) to support local authorities in making information they hold more readily available. We will also work with local authorities to pilot innovative approaches to sharing information, with citizens, community groups and with third parties like MySociety and others, to consolidate, reuse and republish local information." (p.58)

I realise that the information this refers to is mostly procedural and governmental, rather than personal. However, writing as someone who received the confidential personnel files of two separate individuals by mistake after making an FoI request to my county council, I'd be wary of making it even easier to distribute information held by local authorities. I'm also not over the moon about third parties which, as stated in other areas of the publication, can include 'faith' and 'community' leaders, having such casual access to this information, or indeed the power to act as intermediaries.

"Government will pilot a ‘Digital Mentor’ scheme in deprived areas. These mentors will support groups to develop websites and podcasts, to use digital photography and online publishing tools, to develop short films and to improve general media literacy." (p.61)

Teaching people from poor, deprived and difficult backgrounds to read, write and count is far more important than teaching them how to use Photoshop and Movie Maker.

"We will introduce a new duty on local councils to respond to all petitions, including electronic petitions, relating to local authority functions or other public services where the council shares delivery responsibilities." (p.65)

And just how many of the much vaunted e-petitions on the Downing Street website has Gordon Brown responded to? I seem to recall the only time the PM has answered one directly was when Tony Blair wrote a response to one regarding road pricing. Also, does Hazel have any idea how much such replies would cost?

"In 2005, we established ‘young advisors’ to create a pool of young people aged 16-21 to help public bodies in their policy-making and delivery of services. There are now 38 schemes, with 250 trained young advisors. Forty per cent of the young advisors are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds." (p.85)

I personally do not think that having advisors who so overwhelmingly misrepresent the racial make-up of the population is anything to be proud of. According to the 2001 census, the population of the UK is 92.1% white. No doubt creating more advisors will make this situation worse, and on the same page the document promises these advisors will have "direct access to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government." Yikes!

"We also propose to consult on a new right to petition to hold local officers to account. If enough people served by a local service or agency sign a local petition then, senior officers working for a local public body should be required to attend a public hearing such as overview and scrutiny." (p.91)

This will waste a supreme amount of time, which is a particularly dumb idea in this case. If these people are constantly being brought before public hearings, how can they be expected to get on with their job? Also, can we have this for central government please? No... didn't think so.

"We will amend the ‘Widdicombe rules’ (section 2 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989) which forbid council workers, above a certain salary band,from being active in party politics, so that only the most senior council officer such as chief executives and chief planning officers continue to be barred from political activity along with other ‘politically sensitive’ posts." (p.106)

In other words, you're going to screw up local government like you did the Civil Service, by filling it with Labourite yes-men and sniveling party politicians.

"Therefore a taskforce has been established by the Government to help more black, asian and minority ethnic women to become councillors, and so make councils more representative of the community." (p.107)

So things only need to be representative of the community when the percentage of minorities is too low rather than too high?

"We want to support authorities in modernising the way they do business by legislating to enable councillors with caring responsibilities and others, for example those with long journey times, to use information and communication technology to participate in meetings and vote remotely." (p.110)

Absolutely astonishing. Councillors won't have to attend debates, listen to arguments, or take part in the actual process of local government whatsoever. Instead, they can stay at home, log onto the Internet, and cast a legally binding vote on a proposal or law they haven't had any part in creating. The next step from this is just giving 50-70 people in each borough the right to vote on such things, and do away with elections; not the most democratic idea. And is it me, or are Labour councillors far more likely to have stay-at-home jobs or time-consuming responsibilities than Conservative ones? This isn't a way to encourage people to become councillors; it's a way to encourage people with already heavy workloads and not a lot of free time to become Labour councillors.

There are about 50 more pages in this thing, but they are mostly comprised of annexes, lists and data. All these points have been garnered from a fairly quick read through. Imagine how much rubbish would be discovered if I did it properly!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Proof of Idiocy

I don't know whether you want to take this story from the Telegraph as proof of Hazel's ignorance or stupidity, or both for that matter, but it certainly tells a tale.

Apparently, Hazel Blears had absolutely no idea who Citigroup are. Citigroup were, until earlier this year, the largest company in the world. It was also the world's biggest firm in terms of revenue.

Frightening, no?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Come Off It

Hazel is positively reeling with delight that Ray Lewis, one of Boris Johnson's deputy majors, has resigned. She said "the Tory administration in London is in complete disarray", and various other things of that ilk.

But however frustrating this story is for the Conservatives, and it seems to be more of a case of Boris Johnson taking someone at his word than anything else, it pales in significance next to what is happening in Scotland. George Ryan, the likely Labour candidate for the Glasgow East by-election refused to attend the meeting at which he was expected to receive the nomination. It's hardly a ringing endorsement of either the party of the leader that a likely candidate in a seat where Labour has a 13,500+ majority doesn't want the job. Ryan has said his decision was for family reasons, but that's as likely as Gordon Brown smiling and not looking creepy. You want disarray, Hazel?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

60 Years Out of Date

Just now on The Daily Politics, Hazel Blears started digging at Chris Grayling because the Conservatives voted against the NHS in 1948. What's she going to do next, criticise David Cameron for his actions during the Suez Crisis?

When Hazel said her piece and started nudging Grayling, I do wish he'd just told her to grow up and stop being so stupid, rather than the rather wet 'we've supported it every day since' answer he gave.

Blears Copies Brown

Hazel has developed that Brownian knack of not going anywhere near the answer to questions. These are some exchanges between Hazel and The Eric Pickles from yesterday in the House of Commons. The Pickles asks:

"I wonder whether the Secretary of State has had time to look at the latest survey by the Local Government Association, which has branded 24-hour drinking a failure. The LGA survey warns that violence continues to blight the streets leaving taxpayers with a completely unacceptable £100 million bill. On top of that, local authorities have lost £43 million in licensing costs. Does the right hon. Lady believe that 24-hour drinking is a social experiment that has failed?"

Blears responds:

"The hon. Gentleman will be very well aware that the number of 24-hour licences in this country is tiny. There has been a relaxation of licensing provisions so that people can now drink at different times. If he talks to the police, he will find that in his area, as in mine, they are pleased that we now have staggered closing times, and that we do not see the scenes on the streets that we used to see when people all came out of premises at the same time. We now have a better system for managing our night-time economy, which means the local authority, the police, trading standards and environmental services all working together on the issue. That is the practical approach, rather than an approach in which figures are plucked out of the air."

Can you decipher from that reply whether she has actually read the LGA report? Hard to say, isn't it. I also have absolutely no idea what "we now have a better system for managing our night-time economy" means, either. It's one of those phrases that sounds clever and important, but which doesn't actually mean anything.

The Pickles responds:

"It is fortunate that the Local Government Association talked to local police and trading standards. The overwhelming majority of health authorities and councils reported pressure on resources. The right hon. Lady cannot kid herself any longer: our towns are nightly turned into vomitoriums, with brawling and bad behaviour. In March 2004, she said that the reforms would create a “continental cafe-bar culture”. How did her dream of a nation at ease with itself, gently sipping chardonnay, turn into something more like chucking-out time in Deadwood?"

It's great that The Pickles is essentially pointing out that all the people Blears mentioned in her first reply are actually saying quite the opposite to what she stated.

Blears replies:

"If the hon. Gentleman thinks that my dream is of people gently sipping chardonnay, perhaps he has not often been on a night out in Manchester, and perhaps he needs to go on one. I can tell him that a night out in Manchester is now a much more pleasant experience, because the police are active on the streets, the local authority has introduced a “best bar none” award in which bars are rewarded for managing their premises properly, and people can go out and thoroughly enjoy themselves in a safe environment. That is about making practical policies that work on the ground, with people working together. Local authorities’ trading standards departments have done an excellent job of cracking down on some of the off-licences and pubs that have been serving drink to under-age youngsters. We need to tackle those kinds of problems, while allowing the vast majority of people who go out, have a drink and enjoy themselves to do just that."

The phrase repeat ad nauseam comes to mind. This is the same answer to the first question, albeit with a few bits of alteration round the edge. I also hate the way Blears manages to get her region into so many of her answers; it's something she does a lot. Her answer to just about everything is often "Well, the Honourable Member should go to Manchester, Salford or anywhere else near my constituency which I pretend to like." Also, why the heck should The Pickles cart himself up to Manchester just because Blears wants him to?