Vir Cantium

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Monthly Archives: September 2007

Conference Day 1

The first rule for organising a conference fringe event is to ensure that the magic word “refreshments” is prominent in any promotional material. Otherwise, you’ve got your work cut out ensuring a big turnout without a big name.

So following young William’s morning conference opener, it was on to the National Lottery fringe event this lunchtime and I can report that many members were keen to ensure that Lottery funds were going to a good cause. Away from the hot buffet, though, there was some interest in the Lottery itself, and a vote on a range of case studies of possible good causes revealed just how low the party had come – when the meeting came up with the same result as Lib Dems had at the same event two weeks earlier. (Even though I voted for the one that Labour delegates had chosen.)

[Serious policy comment] Some do get worked up about Lottery money going into areas that should be funded by the taxpayer. Frankly I reckon that as no-one is forced to buy the tickets, then Lottery funding is nearly always preferable to milking the taxpayer.[/enough already]

Into the main hall for the first time, squeezed into the temporary auditorium style seating (rather than the old single level arrangement), and the DVT held off for long enough to take in Lord Heseltine and more. Hezza’s baggage ensures that he could deliver the combined oratory quality of Churchill, JFK and the Lord Jesus himself, and still he wouldn’t have mustered much more of a standing ovation than the handful of members who stood at the end of his workmanlike speech today. I was not one of them.

Boris Johnson at Conservative Party Conference 2007Never mind, Tarzan, we had Big Eric Pickles to brighten things up (full marks for the soundbite “this Government’s idea of freedom for local councils is to say “jump” and then leave them to decide how high”, which will have pressed councillors’ buttons). Following that, we had Boris, Dave, Arnie and finally Mayor Bloomberg of New York giving a masterclass in fiscal conservatism.

Boris may not be the most polished of formal speakers, but he hardly needs to be – his strengths lie in his other qualities. If the activity level of Livingstone’s astro-turfers and smear-merchants is anything to go by, he has them rattled already.

And finally for now…

Conference tip #1
When Dizzy is already miffed about the whole pass thing, don’t add to his stress levels by sitting him in front of a crooner in the Hilton bar.

Conference tip #2
Free chocolate is available at the Conservative MEPs’ and the Electoral Commission stands.

Conference tip #3
Chocolate tends to mess up a laptop keyboard somewhat.

Brown and "The Difficult Second Album"

So, to Blackpool, for the last time (aaaahhh!)

This year I’ve found a hotel that has an en-suite bathroom (that’s not a slur on the hospitality of the Flyde Coast – just that last time I made the assumption and was disappointed).

Much dissecting of the polls about – polls which, leveller heads a few weeks were reminding us, would be meaningless until taken after the conference season. Of course, the rumours of a snap election have given the pundits plenty of excuses for doom-mongering, including that harbinger of joy, Anthony King in the Telegraph this morning.

Yet prompting the current poll situation, apart from Brown’s honeymoon and the fawning coverage, is the series of carefully planned gimmicks and electoral button-pressing that Brown has been indulging in.

The question is, when will Brown’s box of tricks be exhausted? Like a new band, Brown’s first album has received critical acclaim – as it ought to, since he’s had ten years perfecting the lyrics and music since the first demo track was laid. Even if some of the tracks have proven to be haphazard remixes of some else’s work!

However, at some point he will have to tackle the difficult second album. In Blackpool over the next few days, it is the Conservatives’ job to ensure that he won’t be able to get away with just pushing out a greatest hits compilation.

For coverage by older blogging hands, don’t forget to check the Conference Bloggers site.

Meantime … to the bar!

Will Brown call an early election?

How should I know?







OK, that’s not much fun is it? So here is your cut out and keep guide to what this blogger thinks Brown will do.

Clearly, Brown bounce … polls won’t get any better … worsening economic situation … union discontent … mandate … catch Tories on the hop.

Then again, missed his chance … poll lead has peaked/will fade after next week … waited ten years … fear of being shortest serving Prime Minister in recent history … proved adept at avoiding trouble … media on-side … ride out the economic downturn.

So there you are. In couple of months I can say “I told you so”.

Transport Fat Cats

James Cleverly, future GLA member for Bromley & Bexley, has noted an interesting fact about Transport for London:

… did you know that there are 232 people working for TFL who earn over £100,000 per year? I didn’t until Boris [Johnson] pointed it out. This compares with only 43 who earn over £100,000 in the Home office and seven in the Treasury.

Just think how many more bus stops could be blessed with pretty coloured tarmac for that money?

I have held the view for some time (actually since TfL was formed) that we have two main choices* when it comes to arranging road and transport spending and planning.

1. Centralise everything at City Hall, maximising economies of scale (or trying to). As a Conservative I am against most centralisation, be it in transport, planning or most other policy areas. In any case, given TfL’s performance in consultation exercises, from the Blackwall Tunnel to any number of schemes that any random handful of local councillors could point you towards, TfL will pardon me if I don’t have an enormous amount of faith in the performance of the current monolith, let alone if they were handed control over every inch of tarmac in Greater London.

2. Devolve (almost) everything back to the boroughs. It is just daft for TfL to be acting as anything other than a planning body for genuinely strategic issues when the professional expertise and capacity already exists at borough level. Leave boroughs to co-operate as and when, and only to the extent required, either through bi-lateral ad-hoc arrangements or via alliances of a more practical size and remit such as SELTrans (which even then, is not universally loved).

So that’s transport sorted. Is it too late to put in my application for the London Mayoral nomination?

* For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll just looking at the short and medium term, rather than some of the more interesting libertarian ideas (pdfs 335Kb & 80 Kb respectively).