Wednesday, 14 July 2010

I am leaving the Western Morning News

The morning after a magnificent send-off from regional colleagues and friends seems as good a time as any to confirm my departure from the Western Morning News on Friday.

After almost four fantastic years of badger culling, DEFRA-bashing, unitary-yawning, tourism-talking, campervan-driving, expenses-exposing and, mostly, laughing, I am moving on to pastures new.

From next week I will have a complete change of pace and pressure covering politics at the Independent on Sunday. As someone has already noted, they could not be more different papers and probably don't share many readers but I'm looking forward to a new challenge.

Thank you to everyone who has taken time to read this blog or been remotely informed by the political coverage in the WMN in what has been a fascinating time for politics; nationally in general and in the Westcountry in particular.

As a Somerset boy I will always have fond memories of working for a paper I grew up knowing, covering a region I love.

But for now, I think it's time for a quiet cup of coffee and hope there isn't too much shouting at PMQs.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Tory MP warns deficit will last 31,000 years

All MPs are desperate to make the unimaginable figures on the national debt easier to understand.

Sarah Wollaston, new Tory MP for Totnes, has found a novel way. She told the Commons:

“All these very sad cases are unavoidable. It is because we have a national debt of £1 trillion. I was looking at what that means. If every pound were a second, that would be 31,546 years and we would all be sitting here for a very long time.”

Hmm. But if those pound coins were laid end to end will they reach the moon or buy a cake the size of Wales?

Only one way to find out…

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Lib Dem grassroots revolt at scrapping new school buildings

Another day, another test for the coalition. Michael Gove's announcement that he was stopping plans to rebuild or refurbish 16 Westcountry schools has (unsurprisingly) not gone down well.

MPs of all parties are making noises about "requesting meetings" and urging rethinks. Local councillors are less subtle. Des Hannon, a Lib Dem, county councillor who has just seen plans evaporate for his local school in Tiverton to be rebuilt, is pretty blunt in this letter he is sending to Mr Gove.

Dear Sir

I wrote to you on the 15th of May to explain why Tiverton High School’s BSF project deserved your support. I told you about the huge strides made at GCSE. I told you about the money already invested by Devon council tax payers and about crumbling buildings and rapidly growing student numbers. I got a reply utterly free of substance.

I listened to your speech on BSF today with incredulity. You have set back the educational hopes of our community and undermined the trust of our young people in government. I’m at a loss as to how your proper criticism of the ‘bureaucracy’ of BSF can justify ditching our scheme after we’ve jumped through every hoop. In May I told you that scrapping our project would be ‘a gross and unforgivable injustice to our children.’ You’ve done it anyway.

You are enthusiastic about creating ‘free schools.’ I fear you intend to squander the investment Tiverton needs on an expensive fad of interest only in cities. As a parent in a market town, serving a large rural area, ‘choice’ isn’t my priority. I just want our local school to have buildings fit for the students and teachers inside.

In the wake of your decision I’d be grateful for answers to two questions. How will you renew our building and make it big enough for soaring student numbers? Will you reverse the dire under funding which has seen Devon children short changed by Labour and Conservative governments for decades?

I look forward to the courtesy of a reasoned response. Our children deserve it.

Yours faithfully,

Cllr Des Hannon (Devon County Council, Tiverton East)

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Does Harriet know Labour have been wiped out in the Westcountry?

Harriet Harman has cooked up a real wheeze about getting Labour councillors to challenge Lib Dem MPs in their area over the support for the VAT rise to 20 per cent.

But as Lib Dem councillor Alex Folkes aka Lanson Boy points out, the one flaw in this plan is the distinct lack of Labour councillors in many parts of the country, including Devon and Cornwall.

In particualr, since the unitary council came in to force, Labour have no elected councillors on Cornwall Council, which means no-one to tackle Dan Rogerson, Steve Gilbert or Andrerw George, who has already made clear his unhappiness at the VAT rise.

It is a similar story for Torbay MP Adrian Sanders.

Might be back to the drawing board with that one, Harriet.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Did George Eustice watch a lot of Grange Hill?

So the AV referendum is on for May 5. According to sources speaking to just about every newspaper, TV channel and radio station.

What a surprise, it is going to be on the same day as local elections.

One of the key architects of the No campaign will be George Eustice, Tory MP for Camborne and Redruth and one-time spin doctor for David Cameron.

He was also Campaign Director of the anti-euro 'No Campaign’.

Clearly George took note when Zammo warned him: “Just say no.”

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Ben Bradshaw involved in a total farce

Oh alright, it’s not the Shadow Culture Secretary. Some while back I was catching up on the boxset of The Office, and noticed in the credits that one of the extras was called Ben Bradshaw.
I knew Exeter MP had worked at the BBC but did not think he had spent time at Wernham Hogg.

Now my Google alerts of Westcountry MPs have solved the problem.

This is Ben Bradshaw.

Or rather, it is Brian Stewart, who has just written and directed a farce - All in Vein – which gets its first performance at Abbey Theatre in St Albans shortly.

Brian’s stage name, as this local paper story points out, was Ben Bradshaw, and he appeared in most episodes of The Office.

Problem solved by a Google Alert.

Less easy to explain is why the email alert for Sarah Newton – new Tory MP for Truro and Falmouth – keeps throwing up a link to a story which describes her being “naked in a tubof marijuana”.

I assume it is not the honorable member, but I daren’t follow the link on work computers.

Silent Devon MP told minister does not have eyes in the back of his head

It is tough being a new MP. Neil Parish, the newly-elected Tory MP for Tiverton and Honiton, tried to make a contribution to a debate on energy efficiency yesterday.

He stood up not once, not twice, not three times but FOUR times in the hope that energy minister Greg Barker would allow him to intervene. Each time he was overlooked, in favour of Labour MPs.

The problem was he was stood by the minister in the Commons, as quiet as a mouse.

Speaker Bercow, who even when trying to be helpful risks sounding patronising, had to tell him to be “audible” in the hope of getting called.

This is the full exchange from Hansard:

Gregory Barker: Renewable heat is a renewable form of generation; it is not equivalent to energy efficiency. However, we are committed to an ambitious renewable heat agenda. We have a challenging renewable energy target and renewable heat will be a key part of that. We will be looking at how to move forward and at having the right incentives in place. Because we are aware of the concerns of businesses, such as the one the hon. Lady mentions in her constituency, we will be making an announcement on this as soon as possible.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con) rose-

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I welcome the Minister to his position. He has taken a long and careful interest in the matters for which he has responsibility, and I welcome his enthusiasm. So far in this debate, however, he has been quick to parry any questions that are not specifically about energy efficiency and has responded in a very constrained manner. If we are to have the debate that all of us would wish this afternoon, we need to be able to discuss the energy context in which it takes place and the broader financial measures that will be available to the industry in the future, in order to consider the wider aspects of the green deal the Minister has talked about.

Gregory Barker: Obviously, I take on board the hon. Gentleman's comments, and he is an expert in this field, but the key point I made at the beginning of my speech is that energy efficiency has always been the poor relation and that all too often people leap to discuss other, perhaps more sexy, matters such as heat pumps, the renewables heat incentive or renewable energy. While I want a full debate-and, of course, I will answer the hon. Gentleman's questions as best I can-I also want to focus the discussion on energy efficiency, because it is the most important and the best value-for-money consideration in terms of saving carbon.

Neil Parish rose-

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): Can the Minister confirm that the coalition parties will agree to implement the previous Government's commitment to ensure that all new homes are carbon-neutral by 2015?

Gregory Barker: That is an important target. We are committed to carbon neutrality, and I know that my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government are looking to see if there is any room for making the target more effective. Perhaps I may write to the hon. Gentleman with the very latest on that?

Neil Parish rose-

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): The Minister and I served together on the Environmental Audit Committee a few years ago. Will he comment on the future of the boiler scrappage scheme, a tremendous energy-efficiency measure that has been very successfully delivered, and will he look at the possibility of extending the scheme to cover gas fires? A company in my constituency produces very energy-efficient gas fires. If we were to support it, we would see real progress not only in boiler scrappage, but in the scrappage of other lower performing products such as wasteful gas fires.

Neil Parish rose-

Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman is right: the boiler scrappage scheme was highly effective. Although it was not a large scheme, it was both very good and very timely, and I will be closely examining whether we ought to take it further. I know that the hon. Gentleman has expertise on this, and if he would like to talk to me about it, I would be very grateful for the opportunity to pick his brains.

Mr Speaker: Order. May I interrupt the Minister to try to help a new Member? I very gently say to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) that whatever gifts and traits the Minister possesses, he does not have eyes in the back of his head, so if the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, it is not enough simply to stand; he must make himself audible.

Gregory Barker rose-

Neil Parish: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Gregory Barker: With pleasure.

Neil Parish: Thank you for your advice, Mr Speaker.