28 November 2013

By election night 16

Last week saw two extremes of Lib Dem performance - a great win against Labour in Golcar in Kirklees and an abject defeat to the Tories in Comberton South Cambridgeshire.

This week there are six contests - three Labour vacancies, two Tory and one SNP - in John Thurso's Caithness and Sutherland constituency.  Needless to say it's the only contest in which the Lib Dems aren't standing. 

The interesting contests are in Lambeth's Vassell ward which in 2010 was a tight Lib Dem/Labour contest where both parties won seats in a split ward.  I can't see it being that close this time.  The other interesting battle is in Wakefield's Horbury and South Ossett ward where a marginal Tory/Labour ward has recently been won by increasing margins by the reds.  Labour should hold, but the size of their majority may be indicative of whether the Tories are making progress in the northern English towns.

25 November 2013

Kingston's Welsh Hall succumbs to developers

Kingston's Welsh Hall a Victorian 'tin chapel' in the heart of North Kingston is no more.  The building had various uses over the years including serving as my local polling station, but has now been demolished and replaced with housing. 

There had been a campaign to keep it as a community facility and the Kingston Welsh Hall Society was formed to try to take it on. But the society failed and was dissolved in May 2012.

Top picture by Jim Linwood

22 November 2013

Friday favourite 131

In the unlikely event that my reader doesn't know it but today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy.  So here's how David Frost, Millicent Martin and TW3 did it at the time:

21 November 2013

By election night 15

Last week's four by-elections proved pretty dismal for the party - with it polling just 191 votes and 16% in Winton East ward in Bournemouth - a ward the party used to hold.  In the other three contest the party polled 88 votes - in total - with shares ranging from 1.2% to 2.6%.  Labour had a good night gaining both of the Cumbria contests.

This week there are five contests with two Lib Dem seats up for grabs one of which - Eastfield ward in Scarborough - the party is guaranteed to lose after the withdrawal for personal reasons of its candidate.  The other Lib Dem seat is Comberton in South Cambridegshire where the threat may come from UKIP rather than the traditional Tory opponents.

The most interesting battle is in Kirklees's Golcar ward where Labour have leapt from third place in 2007 to first in 2011 and 2012 and are defending the vacancy.  Their majority is less than 150 over the Lib Dems - who still have a councillor in the ward - so the result ought to give some indication of whether the worst is over for the Lib Dems in northern cities.

Now Welsh Lib Dems jump on illiberal ban bandwagon

Lib Dem Voice today publishes an article by Roger Williams MP backing a ban on smoking in cars where children are present.

This proposal is about as well thought out as that of Lib Dem MSP Jim Muir of whose bill I wrote back in April:
On first glance it may seem an attractive extension of tough anti-smoking laws to further dissuade the recalcitrant minority of smokers to give up and to protect children from second hand smoke.  Until you think about it that is.

There are a number of fundamental problems with this bizarre idea - notwithstanding its fundamental illiberalism and unacceptable increase in state intrusion into the private realm.  Firstly it is basically unenforcable - as anyone who has observed drivers chatting or texting on their mobile phones with impunity can testify. 

Secondly - even if it was enforceable (and it will be interesting to hear the police's view of the proposal) - it is aimed at the wrong target.
It was a wrong headed idea earlier this year and nothing has conviced me since that this is still not the case.

16 November 2013

David Laws at Kingston Lib Dem AGM

David Laws was the keynote speaker at Kingston Borough Lib Dems annual meeting on Friday and although warmly received I felt his speech and Q&A was somewhat off key.

David Laws is a gut liberal, with a commitment to promoting opportunity for those at the bottom of the heap and he is an articulate advocate for a number of policy positions - such as the pupil premium - designed to do that.

But that to me is also his main flaw - he is too much of a policy wonk.  He argued for the Lib Dem manifesto in 2015 to be consistent with policy achievements in government and that new measures proposed should be achievable as part of any new coalition agreement. 

The problem with this position is that it is essentially a policy insider's one - it excludes campaigns to corral public opinion behind a certain proposition or to win hearts and minds on an issue. 

The risk for the Lib Dems in providing an essentially timid manifesto that is acceptable to the political establishment and bureaucracy is that it leaves the large numbers of voters disillusioned in the political system to the mercy of UKIP and other parties advocating more radical constitutional settlements.

The party needs to start appealing to these voters - many of whom backed the party in 2010.  If it fails to do so crawling out of the 9-11% box the party is currently polling in becomes more and more difficult and the rise of UKIP will become inexorable.

Friday favourite 130

Just finished watching BBC's 4 documentary about the 50th anniversary of the Beatle's Please, Please Me album - which featured various artists mainly making a hash of covering the songs.  So here's the original with John Lennon being cheeky to the Queen Mother at the Royal Variety Performance in 1963.

14 November 2013

By-election night 14

The most interesting thing about last week's ten by-elections would have been that all ten incumbent parties held on, if it wasn't for the dismal performance of the Lib Dems.

The party managed to increase its vote marginally in Crook ward in Durham and significantly in Bosworth ward, Harborough, but made no progress Tupley, Herefordshire where the It's our County increased their majority in the former Lib Dem division.  But outside of these contest the Lib Dem score was derisory - 18, 70, 78, 56 and 53 (a range of 1.6%-3.7%) showing how weak the party is becoming outside of a limited number of target seats.  And these contests included wards in Surrey, Oxfordshire and Harrow.

This week sees four contests: a split Lab/Ind ward in Allerdale, a split Lab/Tory ward in Stoke on Trent a safe independent division in Cumbria and a reasonably marginal Tory/Labour ward in Bournemouth that was comfortably Lib Dem until 2007.  It will be interesting to see whether the party can make any progress in any of these contests.  At least it is standing in all of them.

Railway station/hospital mix up of the day...

...goes to today's Edinburgh Evening News who write:

"The Haymarket redevelopment is vital to enable the station to handle increasing numbers of patients."

Edit 16/11 - the News has taken down the original article, deleting the readers comments and replacing it with the following.

10 November 2013

Scotland's lost airport

This blog doesn't normally travel west of the Hartlhill service station, but I stumbled across this story the other day.

Renfrew Airport was the first municipally owned airport in Scotland, with the first flights taking place as early as 1912. It was the base for the world's first air ambulance service and served as a second world war fighter base.  At one point it was the third busiest airport in the UK.

It had a Le Corbusier inspired terminal designed by Scots architect Sir William Hardie Kininmonth.

And was the arrival point for one Cassius Clay.


It closed in 1966 when Glasgow's Abbotsinch airport was opened and in 1978 the stunning terminal building was demolished ultimately to make way for a Tesco supermarket.

The full story can be found here

8 November 2013

Friday favourite 129

With reports that Saudi Arabia have procured Pakistani nuclear weaponry, nuclear proliferation is back on the agenda.  So here's Tom Lehrer - whose first album is 60 years old this year and is still going strong at 85 - with 'Who's next?'.

How to save the NHS maternity service £180 million...

A quick search of the BBC website reveals that the cost of paying out compensation where maternity cases go wrong is £300 million a year.

This is considerably less than the insurance premium of £482 million last year

You would have thought NHS managers might have worked out the obvious solution...

7 November 2013

By-election night 13

The Lib Dems had a decent result in last week's only by-election with the party leaping from fourth to second in Newport's Pillgwenlly ward.

But this week the party is facing a much bigger challenge with another bumper crop of ten by-elections.  Seven of the ten are in the north and midlands which might explain why there are no Lib Dem defences among them.  In a continuation of a very positive recent trend the Lib Dems are again standing more candidates than UKIP with eight candidates to the kipper's seven.

The interesting contests this week should be in the London Borough of Harrow where Labour are defending a vacancy in the Harrow on the Hill ward where representation is shared with the Conservatives and recent splits in the Labour group have led to a Conservative being elected council leader at an extraordinary council meeting in September

In Herefordshire's Tupsley division the Lib Dems will be keen to make progress in a previously solid Lib Dem ward, but where the party fell to third with the intervention of the bizarrely named 'It's our county (Herefordshire)' party - as if locals might confuse it for a different county. 

The other interesting contest is in Crook, County Durham - a split Labour/Independent ward where a Labour councillor died and six candidates including two independents (but no UKIP) are competing for the vacancy.

2 November 2013

Friday favourite 128

With an extremely tenuous link to today's departure of yet another Hibs manager - the good natured and honourable Pat Fenlon - here are probably the most famous Hibee musicians - Craig and Charlie Reid with their debut performace on the Tube with a tongue tied Paula Yates fluffing her pronunciation ...