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March 2005

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Notes from the campaign

Friday, 18 March, 2005
[image]Gordon's grin, and that bribe

Tony Blair went on the rack yesterday for misrepresenting Conservative spending plans. There are some splendid pictures of Gordon Brown's delight at the Prime Minister's discomfort as he was battered by sceptical Political editors and journalists.


But should Mr Brown be so smug? He noted in his budget speech that there have been 50 quarters of continuous growth in the UK economy, of which he presided over roughly the last 32 (but no thanks to Ken Clark). Mr Brown claims that the fundamentals of the economy are sound. 


If the economy is sound, then credit should be given to the hard work and enterprise of the British people first and foremost, not this Chancellor.


The state continues to grow in size (and Labour were actually attacking Conservative plans to curtail further growth yesterday), at the expense of the overall economy.


As the state grows in size, it either needs to borrow or tax more. Little of this growth in spending can really be justified as 'investment'. Neither is it a recipe for a competitive economy. The UK is lagging behind in comparison with the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the tiger economies in the far east, where many jobs are being 'outsourced'. 


The burden of bureacracy, regulation and taxation brought about by Gordon Brown is taking its toll on Britain's competitiveness, compared to where we were in world rankings under the Conservatives.


Gordon Brown is now running of easy choices, harder ones lie ahead, hence the widespread expectation of tax rises after the election if Labour are re-elected.


All of which brings us neatly back to the budget and the pre-election bribes that will have to be paid back  later. A quick scan through the Okehampton Times did not reveal a single habitable property for less than 120,000 that would not be eligible for Stamp Duty. Not much of a bribe there then.


Whilst Mr Brown has been kind to pensioners, this was political expediency which will cost the average taxpayer later.  It is also quite possibly too little, too late for many pensioners fed up with Labour and disillusioned with Mr Blair.


If, as sooner or later historically there always has been, an end to growth in the economy and the start of a recession, it will bite hard. Just at the time when jobs are being lost and the economy is struggling, taxes and interest rates will bite hard.


Mr Brown most likely hopes someone else will have his current job by then.



Wednesday, 16 March, 2005
[image]The Liberal Democrat Business Breakfast Con












Yesterday we received a curt refusal (and no apology) from Mr Bernard Korlander, organiser of the 'North Devon Business Breakfast Club' to correct in advance the impression that David Walter, the Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Torridge and West Devon, was NOT the Conservative Party candidate, as indicated in the invitation to meet him for Breakfast.


Instead Mr Korlander says the matter will be clarified once he has a captive audience for the hapless Mr Walter, who has struggled to make an impact since being selected. We wonder if he will be good to his word. The omens so far are not good.


An image of the invitation can be seen above.


We can only presume that the misleading information about just who Mr Walter is, was an attempt to generate more interest. But it is naive and ill judged.


Do the Lib Dems seriously believe that North Devon business people do not know who Geoffrey Cox is? What impression will they create by trying to lure people in under false pretences?


We are often led to believe that the Lib Dems are a formidable campaigning organisation. From this silly episode, it appears they are just plain desperate.



Tuesday, 15 March, 2005
[image]No 'bungs' for Appledore from Labour

Gerald Howarth, a Conservative Defence Spokesman has effectively wrung out of Labour Defence Ministers a confession that they favoured Swan Hunter, a shipyard on the Tyne, by allowing it an extra subsidy to complete a contract on two 16,000 ton auxiliary ships for the Navy. This added 60% to the initial cost of the tender.


This is bitter news for Appledore Shipyard, which Labour Ministers allowed to go to the wall a few months ago with the loss of many jobs.


Appledore's future has long been in question. It is unfortunately in the wrong place, on the banks of the Torridge where not many people vote Labour, rather than on the Tyne, where they do.


The cost of this particular 'bung' to the shipyard (and to keep Tyneside workers in jobs that were lost to Torridgeside without a thought) was 84 million of taxpayers money.


In an ideal world no favouritism would be shown to any shipyard, be it in Appledore, Portsmouth, Tyneside or Belfast. Tenders for military contracts should be decided on a track record of cost, quality and delivery to schedule. Subsidies to favour particular shipyards at home or from abroad skew the tendering process and don't deliver value for money.


Appledore has an excellent reputation, and would win a fair share of business if the odds were not stacked against it by government.


Since the redundancies, Appledore has had a reprieve of sorts, having been acquired by DML. But once again its future is in question as DML may be acquired by US company Carlyle. Would Appledore shipyard be seen a profitable enough to be kept alongside the core business of refitting nuclear submarines in Plymouth?


Whatever noises the local Lib Dem MPs make, they are effectively powerless to do anything about Appledore's future. In the seedy business of Labour pork barrel politics they are convenient bulwarks against the Conservatives, who would conduct the whole business of tendering in an altogether more businesslike and objective fashion.


Appledore could still have a future if rules of the playing field were being set by a Conservative Government.


Only by electing many more Conservative MPs in places like Torridge and West Devon can the Conservatives displace Labour and so give Appledore a fair crack of the whip.

Monday, 14 March, 2005
[image]Stamp duty tax break does few favours locally

In The Times today it is announced that in Wednesday's budget, Gordon Brown will unveil an increase in the lower stamp duty threshold from 60,000 to 100,000. This is supposed to help first time buyers.


There are just a few properties on the market for less than 100,000 in Torridge and West Devon which would then not be subject to stamp duty, but insufficient to be of much help to first time buyers.


There are probably many more houses costing less than 100k the further north you go in the UK, albeit predominantly in less affluent Labour voting areas.  First time buyers in London, the Midlands, the South  East and the South West will see little benefit from this pre-election bribe.


Stamp duty has not tracked the increase in the price of housing, and the cost of this bribe is pretty small as a consequence. 


If Labour rebands houses for Council Tax should they win the next election, the pitiful gain made with this increase of the Stamp duty will be quickly wiped out.


Council tax rebanding will hit areas with higher house prices harder, making it more difficult for first time buyers not just to acquire their first home, but to stay in it as well.


As with all Gordon Brown's tax bribes, this one has a sting in the tail. 

Saturday, 12 March, 2005
[image]Electoral Commission and compliance

Compared with the vast sums spent in American elections, the cost of a UK Parliamentary election is miniscule. The total amount legally allowed is far smaller (about 12k locally), and restrictions on campaigning using the broadcast media mean that political parties have a different set of challenges in getting their message over.


In a tough fight, the first instinct is to cover the area with paper. Leaflet after leaflet, delighting the local print industry, but perhaps inducing apathy in the electorate who unless very keen eventually give up on trying to follow the arguments waged in a leaflet war.


This time round, the Electoral Commissionwill be looking far more closely at how money is spent. Candidates who flout the law, or deploy creative accounting to conceal an overspend, could find themselves facing a knock on the door from the local constabulary, who are much more willing to investigate election offences than some may presume. The consequences of a subsequent conviction could mean the loss of a seat, either through the legal process or the public shaming that would follow.


New types of election expenses need to be accounted for. For instance, the cost of the diesel or petrol in a candidate's battlebus all needs to be included, as a cost of promoting the candidate. Imagine criss-crossing a vast rural constituency day after day for four weeks in a thirsty Range-Rover and you might imagine the cost of fuel alone is going to take a severe bite out of your legally allowed maximum spend before you print a single leaflet.


Likewise, the commercial cost of premises, actual cost of staff (causing much consternation amongst MPs researchers) and a variety of admin charges all need to be included.


The Electoral Commission promises it will be scrutinisng returns far more closely this time and taking action where appropriate. We have been warned!

Thursday, 10 March, 2005
[image]Kennedy says no deals with Conservatives

Its a long way from just over fifty seats in the Commons to a majority of over 300 MPs and Government. So for the Liberal Democrats the nearest they will come to power is as part of a coalition, just as happened in Scotland and Wales where they are in bed with Labour.


In the latest issue of the Spectator, Charles Kennedy has been drawn out on whether he would ever serve alongside Michael Howard in a coalition with the Conservatives. The answer is, of course, no.


Kennedy has previously ruled out a coalition with Labour in Westminster. This may be a ruse given what has happened elsewhere. It may be achieved with an alternative Labour leader to Blair and a cushy number in the Cabinet for Charlie.


So what would happen if there was a hung Parliament? The answer might be that a minority government is formed, perhaps without the overt cooperation of the Liberal Democrats - unless Prime Minister Brown can talk his fellow Scot into the Cabinet, perhaps as Foreign Secretary. The ensuing discussion about Proportional Representation would be interesting to hear.


But assume Kennedy is true to his word and the Lib Dems don't join a coalition with either Conservatives or Labour.


This would mean a short lived Parliament and another General Election at the first opportunity - perhaps like 1974. 


Perhaps that is a natural consequence for this sort of unstable political situation. 


It is also the time when a lot of chickens should come home to roost for the Lib Dems and their bi-polar approach to politics. 


Naturally averse to tough choices, in a hung Parliament the Lib Dems would suddenly find themselves accountable for what happens, regardless of  whether they were a part of a coalition or bystanders to a struggling minority administation.


[image]James Paice in Torridge and West Devon

Today a Shadow Minister without anyone to shadow is in Torridge and West Devon. James Paice MP would sit in a Conservative Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Agriculture - a post abolished by Labour after MAFF became part of DEFRA.


Mr Paice is speaking at the Torridge and West Devon Farmers Forum. He will be in good company. Geoffrey Cox, Conservative PPC for Torridge and West Devon, and Richard Haddock, former Devon NFU Chairman, amongst others.


Farming is doing better than it was a few years ago, but the shakeout has been bloody and the countryside is a changed place.  James will hear just how things are first hand.


Were Mr Paice to become Secretary of State for Agriculture it would mean that a lot of the problems faced by Agriculture get much better attention.


Given the continuing food scares, we should all care about what goes on in the farmyards of Great Britain. It is in everyone's interests that there is a successful Agriculture sector - for the sake of our health, the economy and the environment.



Wednesday, 09 March, 2005
[image]David Walter - Conservative candidate??

Today a business supporter sent us a copy of his invitation to the 'North Devon Business Breakfast Club' to meet David Walter - the Conservative PPC for Torridge and West Devon. Not a single mention of the words Liberal Democrats in the entire invitation.

A phone call to the organiser confirms that this event is being organised on behalf of John Burnett, retiring Lib Dem MP for Torridge and West Devon. It's all a ghastly mistake, the organiser explains when we press for an explanation as to how the Lib Dems managed to confuse just which Party Mr Walter is standing for.

Or was it?

How many businessmen would turn up to meet Mr Walter knowing he was the Lib Dem candidate? Is being Tory a better draw? It appears the Lib Dems may think so.

Tuesday, 08 March, 2005

Politicos Guide to the General Election tips the local Conservatives

In the recently published 'Guide to the General Election 2005', Politicos, the respected political publishers reckon that in Torridge and West Devon the Liberal Democrats have  'a real battle hold the seat without the incumbent's personal vote'.


This makes interesting reading set against likely Lib Dem expectations that support for the Lib Dem party will decide the election. Unlike the good old days when Liberal MPs were populist local characters like Thorpe or Freud, nowadays it's mostly support for the party that gets modern Lib Dem MPs elected. They live or die on the 'swing' to or against the Conservatives, using tactical votes and pseudo-Tory messages to con their way into Parliament.


Most local people assume, like Politicos, that there was a personal vote for the incumbent, even though his majority was reduced. This time the Lib Dems must try to use endorsement of the old MP as a springboard for the new man.  Not really inspiring.


One thing is clear, Torridge and West Devon is an interesting seat. On the edge of the Celtic fringe, with a declining Lib Dem local organisation and a resurgent  Conservative presence there is a real possibility of change. 


Only the spoiling tactics of the UKIP may thwart the Conservatives, but as Politicos observe, 'there is a surprising degree of crossover between UKIP and the Lib Dem's source of support'. With many Lib Dem voters strongly opposed to the Lib Dem policy on Europe the Lib Dems face another challenge to their traditional coalition of support.


If there is a better swing to the Conservatives than there was in 2001, then don't expect the Lib Dems to cling on here. Without personal votes for an incumbent and a raft of unpopular policies on crime, europe and immigration they have no other way of survival.

Friday, 04 March, 2005
[image]Lib Dem Councillors psychic?

Comparing various editions of local Lib Dem 'Focus' leaflets we find that several of their local Councillors appear to have written the same article, word for word in their local leaflets.  Psychic or what!


Not surprisingly the article in question is entitled 'Axe the Tax' and is a sidebar article that appears consistently through the various county council division editions.


Here's a confession, we often share similar designs and concepts for messages in the Conservatives. But come on, its just a bit lazy to recycle the same article over and over again amongst County Councillors.


It's also simply misleading to say that a stock article about 'Axe the Tax' has been written by this Councillor or that one when in fact it was written by a Campaign worker. It shows disrespect not only for the Councillors but the readers as well.

Wednesday, 02 March, 2005
[image]UKIP Leaflet out of date

The UKIP are still delivering a local leaflet that is a tad inaccurate.


In the leaflet the UKIP give the names of their local councillors and area contacts. However in two instances the world has moved on since the leaflet was printed...


David Weeks, listed as a UKIP Councillor and area contact has resigned from the UKIP. We won't go into the gory details here, but it is in the public domain that he left the UKIP well over a month ago. He is now simply an Independent Borough Councillor without Party Political affiliation.


Alan Eastwood OBE, another erstwhile UKIP Councillor, we understand has become the Veritas organiser for the South West, and may have Parliamentary ambitions in his home constituency of Torridge & West Devon.


Time to print another leaflet we think!

Tuesday, 01 March, 2005
[image]Welcome to our Blog!

Most political blogs these days are full of tedious details about how the candidate got bitten by a dog or crashed his car.


Either that, or inane optimistic chatter about how many supporters we have and how badly they are doing.


Well we feel that's nothing more than spin.


This is politics so we aren't going to try to fool anyone. Instead we are going to put across relevant views and report significant events in the campaign.


We'll stick to facts and events. We'll challenge our opponents and put across our message. Please don't think this blog is anything other than Conservative, plain and simple.

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Promoted by Mark Slater on behalf of Torridge & West Devon Conservatives both at Bridge House Fore Street Okehampton Devon EX20 1DL