Tag Archives: Norman Baker

There is a rarely-printed saying in politics: “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups”

……. Do they mean us?!

For those voters who do not quite understand local politics, it may well be worth describing that most council chambers are organised along Westminster lines. There is a Council Leader (he is the equivalent of a Prime Minister), a “cabinet”, disciplined Westminster-style voting (so that most councillors only have backbencher status) and various committees. Plus, the whole thing is supported by a permanent civil-service-like  bureaucracy.

Since the gradual separation (at local level) of economic and political leadership, the calibre of local councillors has fallen.  Nowadays, individuals who are economically important within a community do not necessarily have an interest in local government. Whereas years ago a typical councillor may have been a land-owning or business-owning member of a well-established local family, nowadays, individuals who run substantial local businesses are very rarely long-standing locals.

Nowadays, local companies often “import” senior managers and directors. They arrive from other parts of the country or even abroad and although they may have the skills to manage and govern, they do not have any particular interest in local goings-on,  because  they know that their job-tenure will be short-lived.  In addition, they know that it is central government policy and not local government which is crucial to their company’s profitability. They tend NOT to stand for election – which is a shame, because they have organisational skills which are often lacking in elected local politicians.

In 1967, the Maud Committee on Management in Local Government stated that “many councillors see council work as a supplement to their lives”. Some of the reasons which have been  given for becoming a councillor – prestige, recognition, seeking a better social life, vanity, stepping-stone to a career in Westminster, self-improvement. (Yes, I KNOW that I omitted the “to serve” mantra).

Luckily though, there are still people out there who are local, feel strongly about local issues, want to serve the local community and are not on a power-trip or an imaginary (in most cases!) practice-run for Westminster.

In local politics, the “management classes” have largely given way to the “talking professions” because the ability to debate has become a more precious skill than the ability to manage large amounts of money and to organise.  The old-fashioned free-thinker has given way to the party pack-animal who will normally vote as the party tells him – the ideology of the party has displaced the common-sense of the independent individual.

In spite of all this, we do need local government . The  usual voting turnout during a local election (below 40%) gives strength to the “centralist” argument  which is in favour of power being taken away from local councils. That is just one of the reasons why it is important to vote.  If we do not vote, we give the impression that we do not care about or want local government. THAT is one of the most important reasons why we should all vote in the local elections.

However, if you do decide to participate in the local election, make sure that you do not waste your vote.

There was a time when party politics had nothing to do with local elections. Hopefully, one day local politics will return to choosing individuals who are best-suited to manage  and control local issues and budgets.

Every party has individuals who are good at what they do. “Comeback Kid” Ken Clark (C) has to be admired for his no-nonsense political skills and tenacity. Harriet Harman (L) is universally liked and respected and is a very skillful Westminster operator. Norman Baker (LD) is an outstanding MP who is doing an excellent job on behalf of his constituents. Their abilities have nothing to do with political allegiance. They are good at what they do.

We should not be voting for Liberals because we have a good Liberal MP. We should not be ignoring any able Conservatives because we’re temporarily unhappy with the Chancellor. For those with long memories – the Labour handling of the Iraq problem or the apparent ineptitude of the last administration should not influence us if we have a Labour candidate who looks as if he or she has a contribution to make.

What should influence us at local level is simple – which INDIVIDUAL do we believe can be entrusted with the responsibility of representing us most effectively on the Council.

Blind partisan voting will only give us a random chance of voting-in the finest. At best we will elect a few good people  – at worst, we will vote-in a single party, many of whom will just be “ballast”. Remember Blair’s Babes? They sit, nod or shake their heads like Muppets while those with proper views do the talking and decision-making.

There is too much political posturing at local level. Too much energy is given over to political in-fighting rather than concentration on the needs of the rate-payer. Many of our local councillors appear to be playing “Westminster” – consequently a local election result is now considered to be a vote either for or against the Government.

Finally, remember that not all Liberal candidates are  vegetarian lecturers or white-collar public-sector workers. Not all conservatives are  barristers, middle-managers or skinheads and not all Labour candidates are teachers, media people or union members.

The Liberal Fire


In six short months, the Liberal party has completed the rocky journey from a small but effective band of highly-principled Westminster guerrillas to a motley collection of low-impact politicians which thinks that “principles” is a clothes shop and Parliamentary “tactics” are a type of House of Commons mint.

Last night, their Leader Nick Clegg (whose speech delivery appears have morphed into that of a Cof E country vicar)delivered a well-rehearsed soundbite by his appeal to all Liberal MPs to “walk through the fire together”. Well, there is no doubt that they will be walking into it but there’s no guarantee that they will emerge “unsinged”at the other end. 

Nick Clegg’s lack of foresight and total absence of strategic thinking probably means that after the next General Election, the Liberal Party will disappear from the political landscape. Oblivion beckons.

None of us can forget the pre-election  theatre when Liberal MPs were schlepping round university campuses garnering student  votes under what now transpires to have been false pretences (see photo above). At the time, neither the students nor the general voter viewed the Liberals’ actions with any suspicion or cynicism. After all, wasn’t it their Head Rottweiler, Norman Baker MP who had asked the very first Parliamentary question about MPs’ expenses. They were obviously an honest party who could be trusted – not like ” the rest of them”.

Our collective cynicism towards politicians was gradually ebbing away until that day in May when the Liberals signed a political HP agreement  with the Conservatives and left their principles as a down-payment.

In theory there is nothing at all wrong with raising student fees – although, as the country (and the poor) become poorer,  the timing may be seen as somewhat suspect. However, once you promise something to the current and future electorates – especially something as politically-sensitive as student fees, you should fight tooth and nail to retain it, together with your beliefs. You do not roll over and have your face fanned by a Ministerial Jag “extras” catalogue while your new security man massages your ego.

Clegg still does not realise that he and his party are not being berated for agreeing to raise university fees. This is not about winning or losing a vote. It is not about fees.

This is far more serious. It is about the credibility of what once was a great parliamentary party.

When the vote is passed, Clegg will have scored the mother and father of all Pyrrhic victories. He will be able to justify an increase in fees because that’s the easy part.

How will he explain the jettisoning of Liberal principles?

Julian Assange

One of the great talents of the CIA is the ability to destroy the reputation of anyone who crosses Uncle Sam. Look out for more women coming forward with anti-Assange claims. The CIA  will be busying themselves  engineering a “freedom-for-silence”deal with Assange. Even though only about 10,000 out of a possible 250,000 documents have so far found their way onto Wikileaks, the ” information genie”  is well-and-truly out of the bottle.

Meanwhile, let us hope that Assange is not involved in any fatal car crashes, illnesses or suicides.  However, if he really is a rapist, bang him up.

Al-Megrahi Lives!

A point of order on the continuing survival of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber. Eighteen months ago, he was given only three months to live and was released by the Scottish authorities on compassionate grounds. 

In spite of all the claims and counter claims about Gaddafi- threats to the United Kingdom and the evidence disclosed by Wikileaks of  “harsh and immediate action”  by Libya if al-Megrahi died in a Scottish prison, we can be sure of one thing.

Had Megrahi remained in the care of the National Health Service, he would be dead by now.

Chancellor’s Folly

Ken Clarke, the Lord Chancellor seems very keen on releasing prisoners, so here’s an idea which I am sure would be very popular at Westminster.

Build a large hostel in SW1 – somewhere near the palace of Westminster so that all freed criminals would  have somewhere to live on their release.

There would be several advantages to such a scheme.

Firstly, the authorities would know where all the lags were lodging with the added bonus that living among politicians, they would immediately blend in and feel at home..

IPSA shame


Click on the map to get details of your MP’s
expense claims between April 2007 and March 2008

The Kelly Report on MPs’ expenses has been passed to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) which is headed by Professor Sir Ian Kennedy. Bureaucracy is once again firmly in the driving seat and it now seems that the Kelly Report is about to be mutilated and red-pencilled by academic lawyer, Sir Ian.

The potential “watering-down” of the report has attracted the attention of Parliament’s own latter-day Joan or Arc, Norman Baker, who is a long-time campaigner for MPs’ expenses reform.

IPSA has been charged with the task of creating the new expenses regime and the Kelly report now appears to have been demoted to “a set of recommendations” – and we know how this government feels about recommendations – especially if they are based on facts.

It seems that MPs can breathe easy again because Sir Ian is reported to be “unhappy” with some of Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations. That inevitably means that the whiff of expenses scandal is set to hover over Westminster  for some time  to come, especially if Sir Ian and IPSA perform radical surgery on the Kelly Report.

The most contentious items are the major ones; mortgage interest relief on second homes, “flipping” properties, the employment  of relatives and “golden goodbye” handouts. The duck house, the moat, plasma televisions, beds and sofas are the items which attracted headlines but it is the high-value property and employment-related issues which are the ones that will make the real difference.

Many MPs are already considering legal redress in respect of proposed changes to the rules governing the employment of relatives as researches, secretaries, managers and assistants. Mind you, there is a preponderance of lawyers within Westminster so that should not be surprising. The possibility of legal action and its fall-out is bound to be taken seriously by Sir Ian Kennedy who is himself a lawyer.

Norman Baker MP, quite rightly is suggesting a “behind-the-scenes stitch-up”  and has called for the Kelly Report to be adopted in its entirety and not “piece-meal”.

At this stage, it is surprising that Gordon Brown’s office is adding to the debate. It is said that Sir Christopher Kelly is a little miffed by remarks attributed to Gordon Brown which refer to the “shaping” of the Kelly Report by IPSA. “Shaping”was not the original agenda. The only saving grace is that MPs will not be given the opportunity either to debate or vote on any of the proposals.

There is a saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. This government already has too many three-legged camels on its books and at the moment it looks as if this is just another one to add to the rapidly-expanding herd.

If the whole mess is not sorted-out with the minimum of redrafting in the minimum of time, there is every likelihood of the voting public actively registering its collective displeasure via the ballot box or perhaps by more direct action. Let us hope that come the next General Election, the voters are not forced to withdraw their support for the main parties and thus create opportunities for minority and extremist parties.

We know who they are and their spectre is already hovering over our lives so let’s hope that IPSA does the right thing. 

The conclusions reached by IPSA could potentially be the catalyst for the most historic and revolutionary political changes in a generation.


For all you believers

A 45-year-old devout Catholic was killed recently in Vienna, shortly after the harrowing experience of being stuck in a lift. The man had been so traumatised that, following his rescue, he went straight to the Weinhaus Church to give thanks. However, as he approached the altar, an 850-pound stone pillar fell and crushed him.

Compensation Allotments

Britain’s local councils are notoriously fearful of lawsuits arising from the garden “allotments” they rent to residents. For example Southampton Council has just barred residents of recently vandalised property from installing barbed wire, in case  a trespasser gets hurt and sues.

What a Prick

Though several restaurants in Asia had reportedly been offering delicacies made from various animals’ genitals (touted for alleged virility-enhancement), the first restaurant exclusivelyserving such dishes, is the Guolizhuang, in Beijing . The staff’s nutritionist told BBC News that sheep, horse, ox and seal penises are good for “circulation” and that donkey penis improves the skin. Tiger, she cautioned, even though premium-priced, has no special nutritional value, but snakes (which have “two penises each,” she said) are great for sexual potency. Unsurprisingly, McDonald’s have recently opened in Beijing.