Why didn’t Luton on Sunday cover the Police Authority row?

I was going to write about the Police Authority row anyway but I was more keen to do so when I realised that one of our local papers, the Luton on Sunday, hadn’t covered it.

Now they may not think it a particularly exciting or interesting story. A bunch of councillors arguing about who sits on what isn’t full of sexy scandal or heart warming human interest I admit. So I wasn’t expecting the front page or even much of a substantial piece – but for them not to cover it at all is surprising. We are talking about an important public body of relevance to all Luton citizens after all.

It’s particularly surprising considering that they did have space for this crucial story about the Chief Constable’s Facebook page!

I may be being unfair in that they didn’t have time to get the story done before their deadline so maybe they will have space this Sunday. I did notice that the Herald and Post did run a story about it this week, which I have reproduced below.

It contains comments from a Labour “spokesperson” which suggests that, following their success at the local elections, the level of arrogance of Luton Labour may be growing to hitherto unknown proportions. Worryingly, this suggests that they may not see sense and change the nominations from Luton to the police authority at the next council meeting.

Random Thoughts #5

Architects award for UKCCA

News that the Royal Institute of British Architects gave the UK Centre for Carnival Arts in Luton one of its awards.

Grender on Moore

I liked this piece from Olly Grender on the man in the centre of what is likely to be one of the most fascinating political battles of the next couple of years.

Guardian Q&A with Children’s Minister Sarah Teather

“Sarah Teather, the children’s minister, comes across as genuinely passionate about helping children with special needs. So much so that at one point in the interview, she got quite cross.”

NEF: The big lie of banking

David Boyle on one reason why the Merlin agreement between the government and the banks won’t work. This is more evidence for the view that I have held fo a while that ee need to go much further with structural refrom of the banking industry.

Vince Cable interview in the New Statesman

If you look for it Vince sort of agrees with David Boyle above on the flaws in Merlin and promises that stronger action may be an option in the future. Less good news is his warning that there is a real potential for a further serious financial crash occuring in the world economy some time in the future.

Chris Huhne has achieved more in a year than most top politicians manage in a lifetime

Praise for a Lib Dem minister under pressure.

Labour cock up leaves Luton without representation on Bedfordshire Police Authority

As I hinted in an earlier post, there is currently a big row going on about who should represent Luton on the Bedfordshire Police Authority. It seems that arrogance by the Luton Labour party has screwed up the appointment process and left Luton without any members.

The police authority is the body that oversees policing in Bedfordshire, sets the police budget, and appoints senior officers. It is made up of independent members and councillors appointed from the three Bedfordshire local authorities. Following this month’s local elections a new set of councillors needed to be appointed and their membership was to be confirmed at the first meeting of the new police authority last Friday morning.

However, at that meeting the appointment of the three councillors from Luton chosen by Luton Borough Council were rejected. This means that as things stand Luton has no representation on the police authority.

What I understand has happened is as follows.

It is a legal requirement that the councillors who sit on the police authority should reflect the party political balance across Bedfordshire. The number of councillors on the police authority should be in proportion to the number of councillors elected from each political party. Note that this is not reflecting the balance within their own councils but reflecting the balance across the whole of the county.

Following the elections the expectation of the police authority and other officials was that Bedford Council would choose as their representatives a Labour and a Liberal Democrat member, Central Bedfordshire would choose four Conservative councillors, and Luton was expected to send two Labour members and one Liberal Democrat. This would have achieved the right balance. Also, I understand the the Chair of the police authority had written to all three councils asking for as much continuity in appointments as possible given that this is likely to be the last year of the authority in its current form before the Government changes the system.

However, at the meeting of Luton Borough Council earlier in the week things didn’t go to plan. I am told that the Liberal Democrat group put forward for their one expected place Cllr Martin Pantling. Martin has been on the police authority for six years as was, until the election, the Chair of the Performance and Planning Committee. However, presumably believing that they could grab all the places available, the Labour party put forward three councillors. These were Cllr Malik, Cllr Riaz and one of the new councillors Cllr Whitaker. A vote was duly held and by using their majority the three Labour councillors were chosen to go forward to the police authority meeting.

I don’t know whether that decision is because the new membership of the Labour group are particularly keen on policing issues, I have to say that has not been my experience in the past, or it is to do with the fact that members of the police authority receive a healthy allowance of £9,000 a year. Whatever is the reason, it was a very arrogant and short-sighted decision to take.

It was also a completely incompetent one. When the police authority met, Bedford and Central Beds having chosen appointees of the party stripe expected, it had to deal with the fact that to accept the Labour nominations would have meant that the authority had the wrong political balance. So the choice of Labour members from  Luton was rejected.

I suppose it would have been possible for them to accept the Luton nominations but then they would have had to ask Bedford to change their mind about the Labour councillor they had chosen and come up with a second Liberal Democrat. I wonder what the Bedford Labour group think of their Luton brothers and sisters attempting to nick their place?

So this cock up by Luton Labour means that the police authority starts its new term without any councillor representation from Luton. Decisions will be made over the next weeks and months without anybody there to be a voice for Luton’s interests. Obviously, this is not sustainable. I guess that they will have to go back and revisit this at the next council meeting and appoint the people they should have appointed in the first place.

I’d like to hope that Labour at the Town Hall would learn from this farce – but I am not holding my breath.

Random Thoughts #4 – The 2011 elections aftermath edition

I haven’t done a ‘Random Thoughts’ post for almost a month so this is a bit of a catch up on links related to the aftermath of the May 5th elections. Mainly for reference purposes to be honest.

My personal Lib Dem Top of the Blogs, Golden Half-Dozen

It would have been better to have put together a post with a round up of the best of the commentary reacting and analysing the results a bit nearer to the local and other elections. But I wouldn’t have done any better than the round up that Stephen Tall put together. So go read Stephen’s instead.

The progressive minority

However, one of the posts that Stephen includes I think is worth highlighting is this one from Nick Thornsby; “If there is one ‘lesson to learn’ from Thursday’s various polls it is this: there is no ‘progressive majority’ in Britain.” I strongly agree with much of what is said here and it echoes some things that I have been thinking and reading about recently.

The Yes Campaign – What lessons need to be learned

I’ve got the strong impression that those involved in the Yes campaign for the AV referendum have had a rather rough time and not just because they were on the losing side. This frank document released by Andy May, “the National Manager of the Regional Staff for the Yes Campaign and formerly National Organiser of Take Back Parliament”, makes for painful reading. But there are lessons in there not just for possible future referendums but for anyone organising any kind of political campaign. For me the single most shocking fact in the document is that no professional fundraiser was employed by the Yes Campaign.

A collection of more links and resources on the Yes to AV campaign is available on the WhyWeLostAV blog.

England Council Elections Results from the BBC.


The Viking Sagas

I thought I’d take a break from all this politics and make a recommendation for some weekend viewing.

If you haven’t already seen it I do urge you to go watch the BBC4 documentary about the Icelandic sagas on iPlayer.

This one hour programme packs a lot in. You get a brief history of Iceland and its culture, social commentary, lessons in the importance of story telling, fascinating insights into the cultural legacy of the sagas for us, how the language of the sagas influenced English, beautiful scenery, lots of rugged Icelandic chaps for those that way inclined, and a cracking yarn on top of that.

Plus in Dr Janina Ramirez a really engaging presenter. I hope we see more of her.

It says that the programme is available until 12:34AM Tue, 24 May 2011 so you haven’t got that long to catch it.

Why Ed Miliband has had a worse week than Ken Clarke

In this post I am not seeking to mount a defence of the Justice Secretary or enter into a debate about rape or the justice system. What I want to comment on is what the row that has centered around Ken Clarke over the last few days reveals about the direction of the Labour party.

Ed Miliband has at times tried to set out a more realistic and rational approach to law and order for the Labour Party. It was part of his pitch during the Labour leadership contest. Reading up on this this week I have found that he has written, in The Sun of all places;

“Tougher prison sentences aren’t always the answer. I think there are times when people get locked up and come out as harder criminals.

Some non-violent offenders can be better punished with a tough community sentence, working off their debt to communities over months rather than getting off with a few days in jail.”

So could it be that in his heart Ed would want to take the Labour party in a, well, more liberal direction? Early on in his leadership he clearly stated that “I don’t think we should try to out-right the right on crime”.

I imagine he sees this as forming a key part of the overall project for his leadership of taking his party away from the toxic elements of the New Labour legacy and forming a new, although in many ways more traditional, identity for Labour. Essentially implementing the pitch that he stood on for the leadership.

If this is the case then the policy approach that Ken Clarke is taking is one to which logically he would want to give cautious support.

Yet, if that is Ed’s view then it is not the only view within Labour. The “tough on crime” approach of the old New Labour faction is strong and has many advocates. There are many Labour figures who would want to join in with Tony Blair and John Reid in portraying the coalition as “soft on crime”. And are doing so.

In truth, under Ed, Labour’s position has oscillated between these two approaches.

So this is where the reaction to Ken Clarke’s interview becomes instructive. It was inevitable, and on some points justifiable, for the opposition to criticise and put pressure on Clarke. It was clearly a mistake for Ed Miliband to call for Clarke’s resignation. Clarke is still in post and the Labour Leader looks smaller. Yet beyond that the extent and vehemence of the Labour reaction, coupled with how it was widened out to encompass a generalised attack on the coalition’s justice policy, has demonstrated that the party’s default mode of operation is to put itself in a position where it can accuse its opponents of being “soft on crime”. Steve Richards, in an article that makes many similiar points to those I make here, says;

“By calling for his resignation, Miliband opts for the tough-on-crime protective shield, which both Blair and Brown deployed to protect them from any perception they might be soft lefties.”

The fact that this is contradictory to the position that Miliband has himself set out must cause him difficulties. The Labour Leader has written an article in the Independent that attempts to square this circle. Sunny Hundal says that it “Sounds like a sensible and populist position to take”. Myself I thought it was disingenuous and internally contradictory.

The truth is that Miliband is walking a path between his “new Old Labour” direction for his party and the “old New Labour” direction that many senior figures want. He is clearly not strong enough to make a decisive break into a new direction and, on law and order at least, he has been further captured by New Labour.

Comparing Ed Miliband and Ken Clarke after the events of this week both should be feeling deservedly bruised, but it is Ed who has taken the lasting damage.

Luton’s Annual Council gives us a new Exec – same as the old Exec

Luton Borough Council held its Annual Council meeting on Tuesday of this week and it is an indication of how quickly you can adjust to things that I had completely forgotten that it was happening.

The Annual Council is the meeting that appoints councillors to the various committees and positions for the coming year. Now that I don’t have to go along to these things I can just catch up on the details when the reports appear on the Council’s website. But for anyone who’s interested but not keen to go to that much effort here are the key results.

The new Mayor of Luton is Cllr Don Worlding and the Deputy Mayor is Cllr Mohammad Ayub.

The Leader of the Council continues to be Cllr Hazel Simmons.

Cllr Robin Harris also continues as Deputy Leader and finance portfolio-holder.

The Council has appointed 8 further members of the Executive making a total of 10 executive positions. I’ve thought for a long time that the Executive in Luton has too large a membership, with the portfolios often being very badly defined, but Labour like to spread the work, and the allowances, around. These Executive members are:

  • Cllr Roy Davis – Regeneration
  • Cllr Dave Taylor – Environment
  • Cllr Tahir Khan – Children’s Services
  • Cllr Mohammed Ashraf – Public Health
  • Cllr Tom Shaw – Housing
  • Cllr Shelia Roden – Adult Social Care
  • Cllr Joan Bailey – Social Justice
  • Cllr Tafheen Sharif – Community Safety

This Executive looks very much like the outgoing Executive. The only newly elected councillor on it is Tafheen Sharif and most of the members have the same or similar responsibilities to what they had last year. So if anyone was expecting the election to bring a change in the approach to how the council is run they will be sorely disappointed.

Needless to say, all the above are Labour councillors.

Outside the Executive the other significant appointment is that of Liberal Democrat councillor Doris Hinkley to be the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Board. I won’t go into the whole painful saga here, but after the Council’s scrutiny process was rescued from complete collapse a couple of years ago by establishing new arrangements it was agreed that the body that oversees the scrutiny of policies and decisions should be chaired by an opposition councillor. This is in line with best practice. Given the Labour Group’s tendency to arrogance and high handedness there was a worry that their increased dominance in the council would lead them to abandon that agreement and appoint one of their own. They have form on this in the past. So it is positive and welcome news that this has not happened and I know that Doris will do an excellent job.

However, I am aware that there is a big row going on about appointments to the police authority which I will say more about in another post.

Within the Liberal Democrat group I have been informed that Cllr David Franks will continue as Leader of the Liberal Democrats on the Council, and so is leader of the opposition, and the Deputy Leader for the year will be Cllr Martin Pantling.

On a personal note, the Liberal Democrat group have kindly, and on their insistence and not mine, chosen to continue with me as their appointee on the board of Luton Culture. Apparently you don’t have to be a councillor to have the role. This is something which I am immensely grateful to them for as I have found it such a fulfilling organisation to be involved with.

Olympic torch to come to Luton

It was announced yesterday that the Olympic torch will visit Luton on the evening of Sunday 8 July 2012. This will be the focal point of a weekend of celebrations including Luton Carnival which will be moved from its usual date to the 7 July.

Should I take out an injunction or demand royalties?

I should either take out a super injunction or demand the payment of royalties – that seems to be the advice from friends and colleagues for dealing with my new found minor fame. I am not sure they are being entirely serious.

When I wrote about how I had become a poster boy for Lib Dem misery last Friday I expressed the fear that that in the future when someone at the BBC wanted to show some footage of a Lib Dem looking miserable they would end up using the pictures of me looking at my phone. Well it got much worse than that.

Yes, there I was again, this time on the latest episode of Have I Got News For You.

This resulted in more people contacting me to say that they have seen me on the telly, including my sister who seemed to find the whole thing hilarious. This was followed up by it also apparently being used on Sunday’s Politics Show.

Still people seemed to like my blog post. It came top of Liberal Democrat Voice’s Golden Dozen and Liberal England kindly included it in its Six of the Best. But the best reaction was from Stephen Tall, who after saying some nice things about what I had written (thank you Stephen), went on to explain how it could have happened to him: ‘How I narrowly avoided becoming a poster boy for Lib Dem misery‘. He is obviously able to be more alert to TV cameras at election counts than I am.

This all goes some way to compensate for the realisation that, having been used on HIGNFY, that footage of me will now end up being constantly repeated on Dave.

Do the Liberal Democrats need to be a bit more like new labour?

I awake, slightly feverish with the cold I have been suffering all day, and the thought occurs to me that one of the problems that the Liberal Democrats might have is that they are not enough like Tony Blair’s New Labour. Well, it is the middle of the night and I can’t sleep but might it be a question worth considering?

Yesterday I had the parliament channel on in the background for most of the afternoon. One of the items on the parliamentary agenda was a statement from energy and climate change Sec Chris Huhne. He is an effective parliamentary performer and he was little bothered by the pathetic attempts of one or two childish Labour MPs to introduce the issue of driving license points into the questions.

I have not been paying all that much attention to this alleged scandal. I take the view that there are sections of the British media who are actively trying to undermine the Liberal Democrats in government and using what they can to do so. Therefore it is no surprise that one of our leading figures comes under pressure like this. I expect that every leading Liberal Democrat will face a ‘scandal’, whether real or manufactured, of one kind or another during the course of this parliament.

Yet the truth is that Chris Huhne is doing several very big and important things on climate change and energy policy, but sadly at the moment, if he is in the public imagination at all, it will be for something dodgy to do with cars and ex-wives.

In the wake of the Liberal Democrats disastrous results in the devolved and local government elections there has been a lot of talk of needing to get our message across better. The Chris Huhne thing illustrates the mountain we have to climb. If all politicians are seen as dodgy, as self-serving, as arrogant and detached, a stereotype reinforced by a hostile media, then it is difficult to get the day today effectiveness of the business of government into people’s awareness. If all politicians are hated, then the quiet unassuming but effective ones will be hated just as much as the loud brash but incompetent ones. Sadly, this gives an advantage to the loud and brash. Can it be a coincidence that one of the most high profile government minister outside of Clegg and Cameron is Eric Pickles?

We have to face the fact that our ministers will not get any credit for getting on with the job and being successful. It is not enough to just achieve things – you have to make other people aware that you have achieved things. They will only get credit if they are seen to be successful.

So they will have to shout about their achievements. Something even more important when you consider that they are competing with Tory ministers seeking to do the same and the need to cut through the tittle tattle that goes for much political discourse.

Yet one of the most disturbing things for a supporter of the Liberal Democrats in government is the sense you get of the lack of any kind of thought through political communications strategy.

We rightly criticised Blair for the endless round of initiatives, announcements, and re-announcements. All spin and no substance was the claim.

It was a scandal, was it not, that policies were launched one year and then re-launched the next year, and then the year after that. Shameful. Yet deliverers of Focus leaflets across the UK will know that constant repetition is an essential part of getting your message across.

This government have said that they will do things differently, not least the Liberal Democrat part of it, but maybe we have gone too far in the other direction? It seems we may have gone from all spin and no substance to all substance and no spin.

It is right to be critical when spin doctors drive the policy. But ‘spin’, or rather the application of communication skills and strategy, is an essential part of politics.

It may be seen as a bit trite to say the Liberal Democrats need their own Alistair Campbell but – just maybe – the Liberal Democrats do need their own Alistair Campbell.

Yes I do seem to be calling for less substance and more spin. Maybe I am more feverish than I thought?

Luton local election results

I’m finally getting round to writing up the local election results in Luton.

This is my result in the Barnfield ward:

Martin Pantling, Liberal Democrat: 904
Rachel Hopkins, Labour: 822
Andrew Strange, Liberal Democrats: 808
Graham Costello, Conservative: 691
Bryan Davey, Labour: 679
Saeed Akhtar, Conservative: 657
Simon Hall, Green: 171

As you can see my colleague, Martin Pantling, topped the poll with myself narrowly losing out to Labour candidate Rachel Hopkins. I lost by only 14 votes!

Given the bad night that the Liberal Democrats had across the country it wasn’t a great surprise that I lost. What was a little surprising was that it was to Labour in a ward that until eight years ago was Conservative held. Yet, I wasn’t greatly surprised that the Labour candidate I lost to was Rachel. She is the daughter of Luton North MP Kelvin Hopkins and it is likely that the name recognition helped.

You can find the results for the other Luton wards here.

The new council make up is:

Labour 36
Liberal Democrat 8
Conservative 4

While there is no disguising the fact that we had a bad night,what is encouraging is that we continue to have Councillors in wards outside of our “eastern heartlands” and had a relatively strong showing in a number of others. It was bad but it was not the “wipe out” that some in Labour were predicting.

How I became a poster boy for Lib Dem misery

Just over a week ago I failed to be re-elected to Luton Borough Council.

Since then I’ve handed in my Town Hall pass, done a substantial amount of tidying and throwing things away, got drunk, caught up on my sleep, and had time to reflect on my new situation. I now am ready to write up the experience, starting with how it felt like I had become a poster boy for “Lib Dem misery”.

In common with activists and candidates across the country the election result was, shall we say, a difficult one for the Liberal Democrats in Luton and me personally. This was not made any easier by my regular appearances on national television.

Unbeknownst to me, during the election count in the hall of the Regional Sports Centre, a BBC camera crew took it upon themselves to film shots of candidates watching the counting operation. Someone then made the decision to use some of the footage from Luton to illustrate the story of Liberal Democrat misery across the country. The first I knew about it was when I started getting messages from people via Twitter saying they had seen me on the telly. This continued for most of Friday and into the weekend.

When I finally got to see what they were talking about I realised that I had been filmed at the point when I’d gone to the stage at one end of the hall to have a sit down and catch up on what was happening elsewhere. The irony was that at that point in the morning, we didn’t leave the count until gone six o’clock on Friday, I was not particularly gloomy. I knew we were having a bad night but, given the circumstances, my spirits were reasonably high.

Yes Nick Robinson “in Luton heads were down” – but that was because I was looking at my phone.

However, losing an election is never a pleasant thing and I’d have preferred not to have the fact advertised across the BBC. Why weren’t they ever there in the past to film me when I actually won something?

If you must, you can see a report in which they use this footage of me here. You might also spot a few other Luton Liberal Democrats as well.

That was bad enough, but then on Wednesday as I was watching the 10 O’clock News’ coverage of the first anniversary of the formation of the coalition government, there I was again. I now have a real fear that from now on when anyone at the BBC wants some stock footage of a Lib Dem looking miserable it will be that picture of me looking at my phone.

Frankly, if I had known that was going to happen I’d have worn some smarter shoes!

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Bedford keeps its Liberal Democrat mayor

One of the few bright spots in the local election results was Liberal Democrat Dave Hodgson being re-elected as the executive Mayor of Bedford.

Dave was only elected 18 months ago in a by-election after the death of the previous independent mayor. So it is tribute to Dave’s abilities and the amount he has been able to achieve in that short period that, with the background of such a difficult national picture for the Liberal Democrats, he managed to be re-elected with such a strong result.

On Bedford Council itself the three main parties achieved the difficult feat of winning exactly 12 seats each.

Central Bedfordshire

It was a different story for the Liberal Democrats in Central Beds who had a very bad night. They were reduced to only 5 seats leaving the council heavily dominated by the Conservatives. It was slightly better news for Labour who return to being represented on the council with Roger Pepworth being elected by a narrow margin in the Dunstable Manshead ward.

The AV referendum result for Luton

Blogging has been rather light around here over the last few weeks for the obvious reason that campaigning for the local elections has taken up large chunks of my time. The result on Thursday was a tough one for the Liberal Democrats both nationally, here in Luton and for me personally. More on that later.

But also disappointing was the outcome of the referendum vote on changing the electoral system for Westminster. Sadly, Luton went along with the national trend and voted ‘no’. The full result in Luton was:

Yes: 16,002 (31.4%)
No: 34,980 (68.6%)

More detail can be found here.