Friday, June 30, 2006

Dear Tories, it's not as bad as it looks

I almost had a heart attack when I awoke to grim BBC News 24 presenters informing the world of a ‘bad night’ for the Tories at the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election. For one terrible minute, I thought we had lost one of our safest seats. However, I was soon given the good news. The seat is still Tory, but only just. Our majority of 13,342 has been slashed to 633.

I must say that, unlike the BBC, I do not see this as a bad night.

Here are my reasons.

Everybody knows that the LibDems are skilled by-election campaigners. Dirty tricks, negative campaigning, all par for the course for them. True, the other parties are guilty of this, but in no way near the same measure as the LibDems. The real test of LibDem popularity is not a by-election, but the General Elections. In the latter case, with their resources thinly spread everywhere, they are not in a position to make the sort of impact they make at by-elections. Having said that, I am still grateful they did not win the seat. It is incredibly hard to defeat a sitting LibDem MP at a General Election, so I suppose we should be thankful we held on to the seat, regardless of the greatly reduced majority.

True, we lost some votes to UKIP, but not in such great number as to make one panic. This is significant when you consider the fact that they were standing against a Tory candidate that one could reasonably describe as pro-Europe.

Another thing to consider is turn-out. This time around, it was just over 40 per cent. Compare this to a 64.8 per cent turn-out at the General Elections last year. Then, the late Eric Forth polled 23,583 votes for the Tories, and the LibDem candidate managed 9,368. Yesterday, the Tory candidate polled 11,621 votes (down 11,962 votes from last year), while the LibDems got 10,988 votes (up 1,620 from last year). So where did the ‘missing’ 11,962 Tory votes go? Certainly not all to the LibDems. They appear to have acquired no more than 10 per cent of those votes. As a result, their ‘progress’ has been greatly overstated. UKIP managed an increase of 872 votes from last year, but that is hardly sufficient to account for the ‘missing votes’. A sensible conclusion to draw from this is that the Tory vote did not turn out in force, as one might expect. It may be that with a majority of 13,342 at the last General Elections, complacency played a big part yesterday. However, I am confident that this will not happen at General Election time.

So I am not unduly worried. We learnt an important lesson yesterday; complacency nearly cost us a safe seat. However, the stay-at-home Tory voters should not be blamed for this. By all accounts, our by-election strategy wasn’t as effective as one would have hoped. Compared to the LibDems’, our campaign literature was prolix and uninspiring. Also, not enough effort was made to counter the dirty tricks campaign by the LibDems. In conclusion, all I can say is I am grateful that this happened in a safe seat. Had this been a marginal seat, we would be telling a different, more depressing story today.
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Friday, June 23, 2006

We have enough laws, Mr Blair

Was I the only one to groan inwardly at the 'news' that Tony Blair has (again) called for criminal justice reform?

Haven't we had quite enough of this farce already? Only a few weeks ago, at the launch of the 'Let's Talk' consultation (wonder what happened to that whizz), Blair
conceded that the criminal justice system had failed the British people.

The question, quite reasonably, is, what is he going to do about it?

For a start, he has promised more legislation. What, in addition to the mountain of criminal justice legislation already created by this government? When will they accept that the problem is not the absence, but the implementation, of legislation. The point is that most of the criminal justice measures brought into law by this Government were unnecessary in the first place.

The whole point of legislation is to empower action, and not to 'formalise' initiatives. The Government has got this the wrong way around. We can see this by the names of the Bills they bring before Parliament. For example, the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. That title says it all. It sounds more like an aim than anything else. More like a political party manifesto than a piece of legislation. It is this sort of mentality that informs the legislative process. Far too often, we hear Government Ministers talk about the need to legislate for one thing or another, in order to 'send a message'. There seems to be a misconception at the heart of this Government as to the point of legislation.

Blair also says that we need a debate (please, no) 'about the nature of liberty in the modern world'. Am I to understand that this debate, together with more legislation, will solve the problem of dangerous criminals being freed unusually early to kill more people? Or the problem of a vicious paedophile being given a derisory prison sentence because the judge's discretion is fettered by absurd sentencing guidelines?

There is nothing wrong with our existing penal code. For the most part, the crimes afflicting society now are those that existed before 1997. The only differences relate to an increase in numbers of criminals, and a much more lax approach to enforcement. This tells me that what is needed is not a debate, however 'considered and intellectual' it may be. We also don't need new laws. We need efficiency in the criminal justice system, and that can best be achieved by concentrating on better enforcement of the existing laws.
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Monday, June 19, 2006

Trouble in the Church of England

I never thought the day would come when I would agree with the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester. That day has dawned.

In an
interview with the Daily Telegraph, Bishop Nazir-Ali said that the schism in the Church of England between traditionalists and liberals had grown so wide that compromise was impossible. He warned that in allowing for liberal values, the Church was in danger of leaving the Bible behind as its standard reference point.

The Bishop also made the frightening statement that there appeared to be 'two religions' in the Church of England. It is frightening because he is right, and we are headed for big trouble if we continue this way.

I am now going one step further than the Bishop. I believe that in order to uphold the integrity of the Bible, the Church of England should split. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, must be bold enough to expel from the communion those who would wish to dilute the teachings of the Bible. The Church of England cannot afford to become what Bishop Ali describes as an 'options church', where we live by preferences.

The Bible does not advocate a 'salad-bar religion', where we pick and choose which parts we would like, and ignore the others.

There has always been a place in Christianity for tolerance of different opinion and belief. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem arises where those advocating different beliefs choose to impose them on the Church, in utter disregard of its long-standing doctrines.
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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

More Labour waffle on crime and sentencing

Following today's news that 53 people sentenced to life imprisonment since 2000 have already been set free, the Government have now decided to do something about our revolving-prison-door problem.

Are they going to drop the ludicrous sentencing guidelines that have caused some of the problems?

Are they heck. They are responding in the best way they know. Yes, you guessed it. Downing Street has announced that the Government will be 'bringing forward legislation' on sentencing.

As if we don't already have enough legislation. When will this bunch of ditherers get the point that the issue is not the absence of legislation? Rather, most of the time, it is to do with applying the laws we already have, and giving the judges more discretion in sentencing.

Expect more waffle in the days to come, and very little change.

UPDATE: Downing Street has now 'clarified' that the proposed changes need not include new legislation. That's a relief. So can we have some more detail on what exactly they propose to do? What about the simple option of unfettering the discretion of the judges?
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Why not empty the prisons and have done with it?

A paedophile who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a three-year old girl has been jailed for life, but could be freed on parole in less than six years. Outrage everywhere.

Cue John Reid
wading in with righteous indignation. The judge is being blamed, but others are making the not unreasonable point that he was only following the Government's sentencing guidelines.

This Government seems to have a strange aversion to locking up criminals. Only the other day, we were told that they had
decided against legislating to criminalise people who facilitate forced marriages. Apparently, they are afraid that such a law could 'harm victims'.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

About turn, Mr Reid

John Reid has changed his mind. He no longer expects the public to tackle yobs themselves, as discussed in my post yesterday. Following expressions of outrage and incredulity both from the public and politicians, he now realises that this is the job of the Police.

I suppose he should be congratulated for dropping the policy as soon as he realised his mistake. (Leave to one side the question of how any right-thinking politician would even have thought that a good policy in the first place.) The point is, Labour ministers sometimes press on with policies, even in the teeth of evidence of their unworkability or efficiency. I am thinking, for example, of the tax credits system, the Connexions card, the Individual Learning Accounts, and countless IT projects.

So congratulations, John Reid, for realising your folly.
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Sunday, June 11, 2006

John Reid's suggestion for a crime-free neighbourhood

So now John Reid wants us to go out and catch our local criminals with our bare hands? Unbelievable.

Anyway, I suppose that's the way we are heading as a society. Some of us have already opted out of the rotten education and health system. Surely the next step is to opt out of the law enforcement system. We'll catch our own crims and hand them over to the courts.

How about a tax refund while we're at it? If we are not receiving full service, surely that's only fair?
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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Learning at the Prince's feet

Well done, Prince Charles, for doing something about the decline in the study of history and English in our schools.

The Prince of Wales has launched ‘The Prince’s Cambridge Programme for Teaching'. It is an educational charity, established to promote in-depth study of history and English. The charity will organise free courses and seminars for history and English teachers. The aim of these is to impart the Prince’s approach to teaching and studying those subjects.

I am thinking that the teachers will probably need more than that. Teachers who attended school after 1960 will most likely benefit from rudimentary classes in English grammar, as well as some good grounding lessons in history. This is because they are also victims of the sharp fall in educational standards over the past four decades. Perhaps, before discussing his preferred teaching methods, the Prince may wish to consider teaching the subject-matter.
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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

An extremist muslim came to town today

Anjem Choudary is at it again. The obnoxious jihadist was polluting our airwaves this lunchtime. Asked for his views on last week's police raid, he made some dark comments about muslims being alienated. Kay Burley, the Sky News presenter asked him if he would inform the police if he had information about a terror plot. His reply? That he would not side with unbelievers (ie the police) over his muslim brothers. He said he would do everything he could to stop a terror attack, such as persuading the terrorist to put away his bombs, but ruled out reporting any suspects to the police. According to him, he doesn't condone terrorism against people in this country. Talk about equivocation. Burley then asked if he condemned the London bombings, and he predictably dodged the question by asking if she supported the killings of muslims in Iraq. If I remember right, this odious man is facing charges following the criminal anti-Danish cartoons protest. I would rather he saved his pathetic proclamations for the jury. Some of us have had quite enough.
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Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Government in the dock

The family of Naomi Bryant, the woman who was killed by Anthony Rice, a dangerous rapist, have launched legal action against the Government.

You will remember that Rice, who was serving a life sentence for rape, was released on licence because the Parole Board feared that his human rights would be breached if he were not released.

I wish Naomi Bryant's family success in their lawsuit. Incidentally, they are bringing their action under the Human Rights Act 1998. Obviously, nothing will bring back Naomi Bryant, but perhaps the legal process and a hefty compensation bill will help focus the mind of the Executive on the following:

1) that decisions made in the abstract can have huge consequences on the lives of ordinary people;
2) that perhaps, not everyone is entitled to drink from the overflowing pool of 'human rights'; and
3) that they are ultimately accountable to the public for their policy decisions.

Let us hope they take note.
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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Or like a crab cling to his golden post

John Prescott has been forced to give up Dorneywood, his grace-and-favour country house. Perk by perk, the hulking Hullster is gradually being denuded of every last trapping of power. And yet he clings on.
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