Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tory shires take on Cameron - and win!

Channel Four news devoted the top 15-minutes of their programme to today's retreat by Cameron which they said goes to the heart of the allegation that he is all style and no substance.

The programme concluded that the episode demonstrates Cameron's lack of willpower. Reporter Jon Snow said:

The Tory shires are biting back. They have taken on the Tory Leader and won...

Rather than sack Dominic Grieve, the Tory Leader has changed the policy...

If David Cameron wasn't on holiday, he would surely have been given lines by his own Party...
Tonight's BBC Question Time may be more interesting than usual...

Juvenile Georgie's silly gaffe...

Today's Daily Mirror rips the mickey out of Cameron's sidekick, wee Georgie Osborne, after he claimed to be an heir to Tony Blair...

Here's the Voice of the Mirror in full to enjoy:

Rich George Osborne thinks he knows the price of everything in politics.

Yet the shrill-voiced Tory knows the value of nothing in the country.

His claim to be an "heir to Blair" is juvenile, the posturing of a private schoolboy still to grow up.

Many Tories are horrified he wants to be compared to a Labour Premier who changed Britain for the better.

Others think baronet's son Osborne, in truth heir to a wallpaper fortune, is just plain silly.

Either way, George Osborne has proved once again that the Conservatives are a bunch of chancers unfit for government.

It wasn't Georgie's day.

In the same speech, wee Georgie said a Tory government would actively prevent new grammar schools being opened.

He insisted that countries in the "mainstream" of thinking on education - such as America - would not allow selective schools to appear.

Pressed by a Conservative activist from Buckinghamshire on whether the party would permit them to open new grammars which had local support, Mr Osborne went further: "We don't believe in schools choosing pupils. We believe in pupils choosing schools."

That's clear then. No more Grammars, which was exactly what Cameron wanted him to say.

Only hours later, the challenge to Cameron by Buckinghamshire Tory MP Dominic Grieve on Grammar Schools became public.

Rather than sack Grieve and lose his second front bencher in as many days, Cameronwas forced into a massive u-turn, yet again reversing Tory policy on the hoof by allowing his Education Spokesman to say more Grammar Schools may be built if he became PM.

Graham Brady of course lost his job in Cameron's team after he was much less critical of Cameron's promise of 'no more Grammar Schools' than Grieve had been.

Either way, in the total muddle that Cameron has created, his faithful sidekick wee Georgie has been hung out to dry...

BREAKING NEWS: Cameron humiliated in massive retreat on Grammars at hands of hard-right...

Cameron's Education spokesman Nick Gibb has run up the Tory white flag on Grammar Schools in a humiliating defeat - it is clear he has totally failed the very test of leadership that he set himself two weeks ago.

The defeat came this afternoon when Shadow Education spokesman Nick Gibb told Channel Four News:

'If there has been a huge increase in population in an area that currently has a grammar school and has a grammar school system, then we will look at it on a case by case basis to see whether there is a case for building one or two more grammar schools simply to maintain the status quo, to maintain the proportion of children that will be able to go to that grammar school.'
This is a humiliating u-turn after Cameron promised 'no more Grammar Schools' just a couple of weeks ago.

His climb-down today shows that the Tories remain unchanged and unreformed - and still wedded to Grammar Schools, which Cameron himself says he no longer believes in.

It is now clear that the man who wants to run the country can't even run his own shadow cabinet!

UPDATE: The Daily Mail has now picked up on this story, under the headline:
Tory u-turn: We WILL build grammar schools

Breaking news: Senior Tory defies Cameron and demands more grammars...

A key member of David Cameron's leadership team has broken ranks to defy the party line on Grammar schools.

Tonight's London Evening Standard says that shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve is apparently publicly insisting that his local education authority should be allowed to build more grammar schools.

The news comes after today's Daily Mail reported that senior Tories were warned yesterday not to comment on divisions within Cameron's team.

According to the Evening Standard, Mr Grieve, who represents Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, could be facing similar sanctions or worse after he called for LEAs at a local level to be allowed to expand selective schools.

Mr Grieve is said to have told his local newspaper:
We must also ensure that if further grammar or secondary schools are needed they can be supplied within the county.
Such a move would contradict Mr Cameron's insistence that he would not allow any more grammars to be built.

Who says Tories are run by a group of privileged and arrogant public schoolboys...?

The Tory Party is being run by a group of very privileged and arrogant public schoolboys...
Not my words, but those of Nadine Dorries Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire according to the Daily Mail no less (from last week and only just spotted!).

With views like that and with one grammar-wars rebel already fallen on his sword, I wonder how long Ms Dorries will remain a member of David Cameron's education policy group...

Osborne pours more oil on flames of Grammar Wars...

As David Cameron attempts to shut down 'Grammar Wars', his own Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has tonight poured more oil on the flames...

A Press Association report, carried on the Metro website says:

Mr Osborne has risked causing further conflict within the Conservative Party by vowing to prevent new grammar schools from opening.

Just a day after Europe Minister Graham Brady quit in protest at the Tories' new policy, Mr Osborne indicated new grammars wouldn't be allowed.

Mr Osborne was talking at the Policy Exchange in London when he was challenged by an activist over the role of grammars in the education system.

'We don't believe in choosing pupils. We believe in pupils choosing schools,' he said.

'That is where the mainstream of the education debate is around the world.

'You go to the United States, you go to other countries in Europe, that's what they are talking about.

'They wouldn't allow schools to emerge and take funding that had academic selection as a criterion for entry.'

Immediately, Mr Brady, the first front bencher to quit under David Cameron, attacked the comments as 'illogical'.
I have no doubt who Lincolnshire Tories would agree with.

Clue: Not their Leader!

Grammar Wars: Tory Council Leader tells Cameron he's out of touch...

A poll of Tory council leaders by Channel 4 News shows that Cameron's ideological attack on grammar schools is backfiring among Tory council leaders.

Of 52 Tory council leaders interviewed, more than half - 28 - opposed Cameron's cave-in on schools policy. Channel 4 also saw a private letter to Shadow Education Secretary David Willetts, in which Kent’s Council leader accused senior Tories of being completely out of touch...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tories hollow claim to be heir to Blair...

Having spent the last 13 years rubbishing Tony Blair, the Tories are now attempting to claim that they are best placed to carry on his work to reform public services!

In a speech today to the Policy Exchange think tank, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said the Tories agree with Tony Blair on 'the essentials of the way forward'.

But he claimed that Gordon Brown - er, Blair's Chancellor for the past ten years - was not part of the 'growing consensus'.

This seems a dramatic - and chaotic - departure from Tory propaganda which up to now has Gordon Brown as one of the chief architects of changing the Labour Party into New Labour.

Bring on another pair of blue flip-flops..?

Well, maybe not. Osbourne's new thesis is built entirely on sand.

As the BBC points out in its report:

Mr Brown has said that personalised services are the next stage of improving public services, has backed academy schools and rejected any suggestion that he would lead the Labour Party off the political centre ground.
Osbourne even has the brass neck to try to steal Labour's mantra which sums up the past decade of delivery:for the many, not the few.

Osbourne may attempt to speak the Blair-Brown words and even applaud Labour's reform of schools and hospitals to offer more choice.

But they become hollow words when they are uttered by a party still committed to billions in tax-cuts for the few which would devastate public services for the many.

'Torygraph' accuses Cameron of blundering and fumbling over Grammar wars...

David Cameron's fresh attempt to shut down the grammar school debate - ignited by his own front bench - reveals the chaos at the heart of the Tory leadership.

Following the resignation yesterday of Graham Brady from his front bench over the row, Cameron desperately tried to demonstrate support for Grammar Schools.

Is that what he meant last week when he said that selection was deeply unpopular with parents and that it was wrong to separate children into "sheep and goats" (his words, not mine!) at the age of 11....?

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph today accuses the Tory leadership of 'blundering and fumbling' into what it calls the 'grammar school war'.

In today's leader, the Telegraph says the Grammar School debate has become David Cameron's most difficult period since he became Tory leader.

The Telegraph goes on:

The resignation of Graham Brady from the Tory front bench scotches David Cameron's weekend claim that the 'row about grammar schools is over'. In fact, it is entering a new, and dangerous, phase.

Mr Brady's departure may well embolden others to follow his lead and speak out on an issue that for so many traditional Conservatives is an article of faith. Mr Cameron has insisted that this confrontation is not a "Clause 4 moment". Well, that may have been the case, but it is fast becoming one.

It is now evident that Mr Willetts blundered into this row - and that Mr Cameron and his aides fumbled their initial response. By allowing the debate to focus on what they are against rather than what they are for, they left the public confused and large elements of the party seething. All unintentionally.
If Cameron thinks his ideological attack on Grammar Schools will produce a 'Clause 4' moment, he is mistaken.

The difference is that grassroots Labour members voted 9-1 to dump the outdated Clause 4.

You only have to look at the reaction to the Grammar School war in Lincolnshire to appreciate that Grassroots Tories would never vote to abolish Grammar Schools...

The bomb squad, a vibrator and a packet of chocolate buttons...

It's on the BBC website, (and it's past the watershed) so it's surely suitable for my family web-blog...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tory quits post over grammars row

Graham Brady has resigned from David Cameron's front bench team after being 'severely reprimanded' for speaking out in the Conservative row over grammar schools.

He says:
I'm jumping because I need to be free to speak my mind, because I need to be free to speak up for the interests of my constituents.

Cameron escalates Tory Grammar School War...

David Cameron has once again failed to shut down public criticism from his own ranks over his climb-down on Grammar Schools.

This morning, Tory Central Office briefed journalists that his Europe spokesman Graham Brady had been severely reprimanded for speaking out against Cameron's ideological attack on Grammar Schools.

Brady, himself a former Grammar School boy, has been told in no uncertain terms to mind his own business and stick to his Europe brief.

Sources close to old-Etonian Cameron are also making it known that Brady faces the sack in next month’s Tory reshuffle. They judge his public criticism of Cameron's cave-in over Labour’s record on education to be treachery.

But if Cameron hoped tough talk would put a lid on discontent within his own Party, he has achieved the opposite effect.

Senior Tory Nigel Evans responded by immediately appearing on the BBC Today programme to launch an attack on the way Brady has been treated for airing his views. And for good measure, Evans made another strong defence of Grammar Schools.

He said:
Graham would not have been doing his job if he had not stepped in and defended the grammar schools.
Tory blogger Ian Dale says the way Conservative Central Office has treated Brady is 'tantamount to encouraging him to fall on his sword'.

'Winner' may have to wait three months after being declared 'loser'...

The candidate who was declared a 'loser' despite winning more votes than the 'winner' in district council elections earlier this month has lodged a petition at the High Court in London to get the result overturned.

According to today's Free Press, Angela Harrison has laid out £2,000 in fees and will have to wait up to three months before she can become a councillor - despite an official recount showing that the original declaration was a mistake when almost 1,500 ballot papers were 'mislaid'.

Mrs Harrison was originally declared in fourth place with 337 votes in the new Crowland and Deeping St Nicholas seat, losing out to fellow Conservative Jim Astill by just one vote.

A later recount showed had actually beaten Mr Astill by seven votes, but law states that the result as declared by the Returning Officer stands - even when proved to be wrong - unless it is overturned by the High Court.

Mr Astill has since resigned as a councillor and Mrs Harrison has taken legal advice and lodged a petition through her solicitors.

In the meantime, she is missing important induction training for new councillors - and the people of Crowland and Deeping St Nicholas are short of a councillor until the mess is resolved.

I still don't understand why Mrs Harrison can't simply be co-opted on to the Council as a friend suggested here last week.

It would certainly save the expense and stress of a High Court case and get a speedier conclusion than waiting for a court date.

And having taken a High Court action myself just a few months ago, I can testify to the fact that it is extremely stressful, even when you are on the winning side!

Challenge Woolfie: can you beat world darts champ...

Martin 'Woolfie' Adams, current World Professional Darts Champion - and resident of Deeping St James - invites you to challenge him tonight in a charity fundraiser at Deepings Rugby Club.

So if you fancy having a shot at beating a world champ at his own game, step up to the oche on Linchfield Road at 8pm.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Police appeal after latest fatal accident on local roads...

Lincs Police are appealing for witnesses to a fatal accident on Friday evening when a car smashed in a house on High Road, Moulton near Spalding.

A 52-year-old man in the car died at the scene and three others were seriously injured.

The Lincolnshire Echo says two teenagers - a boy and a girl - are in critical and life-threatening conditions. One was taken to the intensive care unit at Boston's Pilgrim Hospital. The other was taken to Nottingham's Queen's Medical Centre.

The fourth passenger was taken to hospital with serious head injuries but is not said to be in a life-threatening condition.

The car, a grey Ford Sierra, caused severe structural damage to the property in the smash on Friday which happened at about 10pm.

One small step forward on green waste and wood...

At last, a small step forward on my campaign to replace the popular 'bring to vehicle' service in The Deepings which was withdrawn over 15 months ago.

I understand the authorities have finally agreed to pay recycling credits on domestic green waste and wood to the privately-run Deepings Recycling Centre

It means operator Ian Prentice no longer has to charge house-holders to get rid of their garden waste and wood (that's proper wood, not MDF or other composites etc!)

Still no news on whether we will get a general waste skip located at Deepings Recycling Centre on a weekend to replace the once a fortnight 'bring to vehicle' service.

The much-used facility operated at the Rainbow supermarket car park until December 2006 when out local South Kesteven district councillor Ray Auger refused to accept a cash grant from Lincolnshire County Council to continue the service.

I pushed for an answer at the last full County Council meeting and was promised by Waste Portfolio Holder Lewis Strange that there would be a solution by the end of May.

Three days to go this space!

Friday, May 25, 2007

How to solve the farce of candidate with fewer votes who became a councillor...

A friend has suggested a practical way out of the farce of the candidate who has been declared a councillor despite receiving fewer votes than someone who 'lost' in South Holland.

The sticking point appears to be the law that says once the result was declared by the Returning Officer, only an expensive petition to the High Court can change it - despite the fact that the Returning Officer has now revealed that after late discovery a mislaid box of voting papers he knows that the result previously declared was wrong...

My friend suggests that if the Conservative who really lost, (but who was declared the winner) stood down in the interests of fair-play, then the Conservative who really won (but who was declared the loser) could be officially co-opted as a full member of the Council, presumably with the full support of all duly elected councillors who surely appreciate that a genuine mistake has been made.

This solution appears to be win-win: it would save lawyers and court fees (inevitably paid for by the council taxpayer) and the bother of a High Court action, and more importantly, it would reflect the wishes of the voters of Spalding.

And it would surely end the ridiculous farce and strike a blow for democracy!

Could it work? Watch this space...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gary goes to Parliament to rubbish wheelie-bins...

The contrasting methods local councils in Lincolnshire deal with householders waste were discussed in Parliament on Monday when Gary Porter gave evidence to an all-party Select Committee.

Gary, a Spalding councillor and Conservative Leader of South Holland District Council, rubbished the so-called 'Alternate Weekly Collections' adopted by many other councils, including here in neighbouring South Kesteven.

Here, the council are in the process of rolling out twin-wheelie-bins to every householder: silver for everything that can be recycled and black for waste destined for landfill.

Gary pointed to evidence from Bedfordshire that showed some people dumped waste food in their wheelie-bins meant for recycling because they objected to having it waiting up to a fortnight to be collected. This contamination means up to 15 per cent of entire loads of otherwise recycleable material actually end up in landfill.

Gary also claimed that if waste food is left for a fortnight before collection, we could expect
third world diseases that should never be in our country.
Scary. I guess the proof of the pudding will be a hot summer...

The jury's also out on which system will achieve the highest rate of genuine recycling.

For as well as black bags for waste, South Holland are introducing a 'clear plastic bag' policy for recycleable items. That's as transparent as you can get!

Gary's approach to green waste was also no-nonsense. He told the Select Committee that the whole idea was to cut down on the amount of waste collected - recycled or landfilled. He went on:
We don't collect green waste. The best place for garden waste is a compost heap in a corner of the garden where it is produced.
Some years ago, I recall being given a lift in a neighbour's car and couldn't help commenting on the pungent smell of freshly mown grass.

My neighbour apologised for the pong, explaining that he was a keen environmentalist so took his lawn clippings to Dogsthorpe every time he used the mower.

He clearly hadn't taken into account the damage to the environment of his weekly 15-mile round car journey to the tip. Besides, I hadn't the heart to tell him that his lawn would be greener and healthier if he didn't deny it of the nutrients in the clippings.

Even worse, his black bag of clippings ended up as landfill!

Lincs Tories weld themselves to Grammar Schools...

Lincolnshire Tories are spitting nails over David Cameron's ideological attack on Grammar Schools.

Following comments by Cameron that it was outdated to separate 11-year olds into 'sheep and goats', Lincolnshire Tories in charge of our county's education, responded with a press statement welding Lincolnshire to the 11-plus and Grammar Schools.

We shouldn't be surprised at the local reaction. These are the same Tories of course who have just signed a new £2 million a year contract with Stamford Endowed Schools to give a private education to a few select children who live in and around Stamford - the only surviving scheme of its kind in the country.

Council taxpayers all over Lincolnshire will be forced to pick up the bill for something to which their own children will continue to be denied access - no matter how talented or gifted.

Cameron of course is desperate for a 'Clause 4' moment to convince us that the Conservatives are no longer the 'nasty party'. Now he's busy attacking critics in his own party as 'delusionist' and living in a 'fantasy' over Grammar Schools.

But here in Lincolnshire and across the country, the Right Guard dinosaurs are still alive and kicking (him), demonstrating that the Conservatives are as divided as ever.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mars changes its wheys after veggie outcry...

Mars has abandoned plans to use animal products in its chocolate, and has apologised to vegetarians.

As posted earlier in the week, it was revealed that the firm intended substituting the whey in some of its chocolate bars from a vegetarian source to one with traces of the animal enzyme, rennet.

The Vegetarian Society organised a campaign against the move, and within a few days more than 6,000 consumers bombarded parent company Masterfoods with phone calls and emails. Forty MPs joined the protest.

Announcing the u-turn, Mars now says it became very clear, very quickly that they had made a mistake.

Body in river: teenagers charged with murder...

Two teenagers have been charged with the murder of 25-year-old local man Toby Aktin, whose body was recovered from the River Welland in the middle of Spalding on Friday morning.

They are to appear before magistrates in Grantham tomorrow (Monday). A third teenager has been released on police bail.

Farce if councillor who 'won' with fewer votes...

The case of the missing ballot box has turned to farce. It has now been proved that one of the councillors returned to South Holland District Council on 3 May polled fewer votes than a candidate who "lost". But the distorted result stands!

When it became known that all the votes from one ballot box had not been included in the original count, a court gave permission for the sealed container of ballot papers to be opened.

A recount which took place last night changed the result in the Crowland and Deeping St Nicholas Ward.

As Returning Officer and Chief Exec at the Council Terry Huggins explains - in language that only a Returning Officer could use -

This recount indicates a different relative ranking between the candidates from the result of the poll declared on the 3/4 May, 2007. This being a three member ward, of most significance is the changed position to the ranking of the candidates ranked third and fourth.
What he means is that Jim Astill who was returned as being elected by one vote at the official count, actually polled seven fewer votes than Angela Harrison who was not elected.

Terry Huggins points out that the recount does not in itself change the declaration he made.

What he means is that Jim - the loser who really won - remains duly elected. And Angela -the winner who really lost - does not!

Only a successful election petition to the High Court can change the cocked-up result.

It seems farcical that only candidates or their agents can make the costly petition to the High Court - not the people who made the mistake.

Since Jim and Amanda are both Conservatives, the cock-up does not affect the political control of the council.

It seems unlikely that either they - or the Conservative Party - will go through the expensive High Court process.

So justice will not be done.

Bryn the Bin rubbishes 'pay to throw' idea...

Good to hear Brynley on BBC Five Live this morning robustly putting the case against the idea of 'pay to throw' your rubbish. The idea that local councils should charge individuals according to the amount of waste in their bins is being promoted by a so called 'think-tank' (or should that be think-bin?).

Brynley regularly contributes to this blog and 'hit the headlines' when he removed the electronic 'chip' in his new wheelie bin and sent it back to South Kesteven District Council.

This morning on 5Live, he dismissed the idea of 'pay to throw' as unworkable, suggesting that well-heeled people who eat out would pay less than a less well-off mother with several children who disposed of nappies in the rubbish.

Brynley was very persuasive, but I'm sure we haven't heard the last of 'pay to throw'.

Photo of Brynley and his bins from the Grantham Journal.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Blair reveals major regret...

Tony Blair has revealed a major regret about his decade as Prime Minister...he didn't do enough to promote the traditional Great British cup of tea.

When it was put to him in an interview on US radio that it was impossible to get a good cup of tea in London, Mr Blair replied:
This is a serious allegation. But I fear you may be right. This is a British tradition that must not be lost. If I were running for office again, I'd make it a major part of any platform.

It's got to be properly strong, it's got to have the right colour.

The trouble is, not many people do it like that.

That's why I drink coffee when I'm in mainland Europe, because they just can't make a cup of tea.
It's good to know that the Prime Minister enjoys a good cuppa. And he's right of course that only us Brits know how to make one...

I remember my dear old Mum's first words on arriving home after a month's holiday in China some years ago:
Get the kettle on, let's have a proper cup of tea - the Chinese don't know how to make it properly!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Tory flip-flops on Grammar Schools...

Just a day after the Tory Shadow Minister for Education launched his ideological attack on Grammar Schools, exposing their failure to help disadvantaged children, he has been forced by the Tory Old Guard to say he will do all he can to protect er, Grammar Schools.

Bring on the flip-flops!

Body in river: three men helping police

I understand the body of a young man has been recovered from the River Welland at Spalding this morning. Lincolnshire Police are treating the death as "suspicious" and three men are helping police with their enquiries.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wolfowitz finally sacks himself as World Bank chief...

Neo-con Paul Wolfowitz has resigned as president of the World Bank tonight - after failing to ride out criticism for breaking the bank's code of conduct.

He tried to brazen out pressure from European and other governments after he fixed a fancy pay deal and handsome promotion for one of the Bank's employees with whom he was 'romantically involved'.

Perhaps the final straw was a German official telling him he would not be welcome at a high level meeting in Berlin next week.

Details in tomorrow's Financial Times.

Water companies make it difficult to complain...?

Work this one out - one of the biggest rises in complaints against water companies in the past year is the number of customers complaining they've been unable to complain!

Apparently, water companies making it difficult for customers to complain by not allowing them to telephone their gripes caused a flood of complaints.

Annual figures released today by the Consumer Council for Water reveal that Severn Trent Water saw the largest number of complaints last year, up 36 per cent on the previous year.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Case of missing votes in court...

Local election results have been called into question after an 'irregularity' has been discovered in a local ward where one candidate won by just one vote.

I understand South Holland District Council applied to a Court yesterday for the ballot boxes to be unlocked and the votes recounted after the error was discovered. It is believed that an entire box of votes - likely to be well over 100 votes - was missed in the count for the three district seats for Crowland and Deeping St Nicholas.

The Lincolnshire Free Press reports that candidates will have to pay for High Court costs themselves if they want the result overturned and the extra votes added in.

That doesn't seem right to me: A box of papers missed from the count would be a clear error by the Returning Officer's staff - and I would have thought South Holland council taxpayers will end up paying the legal costs.

It could have been avoided if they had followed procedures I've seen in Labour Party selections - where every ballot paper has to be verified and accounted for, and checked again.

In local council elections, once the Returning Officer declares the result, it stands, even if later proved to be wrong. The result can only be overturned after a lengthy and expensive legal process.

I'm not surprised that mistakes may have been made.

I wasn't at South Holland's count. Over at Grantham, I was not the only candidate to feel that the South Kesteven counts were, well, rather rushed.

I understand one candidate who lost by just ten votes was refused a recount by Chief Executive Duncan Kerr, which seemed a bit harsh, given the rather complicated nature of the count.

Other candidates agreed with me that they were not even given the opportunity to ask for for a re-count or even a quick check that the numbers of votes added up, before the Returning Officer rushed to the stage to make the announcement.

What's that saying my dear old Mum used to say:

A stitch in time, saves nine!

Is anyone there? Police call off armed siege of empty building...

An armed siege of a house in the West Midlands has been called off this afternoon - after police took over three hours to realise there was nobody inside.

The drama began at 11 this morning following reports to police that someone with a weapon had entered the property.

Staffordshire Police helicopter was scrambled, marksmen trained their weaopns on the house, dogs deployed, streets cordoned off, neighbours told to stay indoors and a local school was 'locked down' officers shouted "Come out".

But at 2.30pm this afternoon, officers entered the mid-terrace property and found there was nobody inside!

There'll no doubt be lots of leg-pulling, but reports of people wielding weapons have to be taken seriously and the officers had to be sure what they were getting into when they entered the house.

I don't blame them for being cautious, but three hours does seem a rather long time to realise they were on a wild goose chase.

Picture and details from the Stoke Sentinel. Hat-tip to 5Live.

John Hayes' credibility takes a nosedive...

Tory MP for South Holland and The Deepings comments on the Prime Minister's record at Conservative Home.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I had respect for John Hayes as a decent sort, despite his politics. But his credibility took a nosedive when he distributed a false statement about me which was deliberately designed to affect the outcome of the local elections.

Hours before polling stations opened, the MP personally delivered a Tory leaflet down my street which falsely alleges that I claimed expenses to cover my duties as local county councillor.

In fact, I have never claimed a penny in expenses - as clearly shown in the public record.

In contrast, the public record also shows that both the Conservative candidates do claim expenses. One of them, Ray Auger, is in fact the third highest claimer at South Kesteven District Council!

Same old Nasty Party.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Maddie suspect found guilty by redtops...

Has the tabloid feeding frenzy on the hunt for missing Madeleine gone OTT?

Today, the redtops competed for each other to print the most private details about the man who has now been officially named as a suspect by Portuguese Police.

Time will tell if he had anything to do with the disappearance of Madeleine, a case which has touched all our hearts - thanks to the media. Everyone prays that the beautiful four-year-old will be reunited with her distraught family soon and their nightmare is finally ended.

But the 'suspect' has already apparently been tried by the media - and duly found guilty.

Reporter Julie Mount revealed - exclusively in The Sun of course - that she last met the suspect in the street in Praia da Luz two days ago as she returned from a service attended by Maddie’s parents.

Julie tells the world:
To me he seemed like a classic fantasist...And he said he worked closely with investigators. Frankly, I didn’t believe that.
Clearly guilty then.

Meanwhile, under the headline: A Daily Mail reporter's encounter with Madeleine 'suspect', reporter Neil Sears tells us:
He made me feel uncomfortable.
I have to say Daily Mail reporters make me feel 'uncomfortable' but that's not indictable.

Then there's this Mirror headline which clinches it:

Quiz Briton lives with his mum
As I say, it may turn out that the suspect faces charges.

But do you remember the Ipswich murders a few months ago...and how the first 'suspect' had every sordid morsel of his private life trawled over in the media - didn't he turn out to be totally innocent?

I wonder how he's managing to rebuild his life.

Free chance to test drive a police car on the skidpan...

Lincolnshire Police are offering new drivers the chance to test their skills on a skidpan and get advice from an advanced police driving instructor.

The first-come, first-served free offer is an initiative by Lincolnshire Rooad Safety Partnership to reduce collisions on Lincolnshire roads.

So if you've recently passed your driving test, and would like to drive a police car on the skidpan at Police Headquarters at Nettleham, just north of Lincoln, ring 01522 805800 to book an appointment.

Unfortunately, I don't qualify - unless they count 1968 as recent!

French push bottles up German rear...

Had to whince at the headline on tonight's Lincolnshire Echo splash: Man held in clamp probe.

Sounds almost as painful as one of my all-time favourite newspaper headlines written in the First World War to report an Allied success during the German retreat.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bank Governor praises prudence on interest rates...

The Governor of the Bank of England, Marvyn King has told the Financial Times that he is convinced the Bank’s independence has helped improve Britain from being the lowest ranked Group of Seven economy before 1997 towards the very top.

Before 1997, interest rates were used as political tool. They went magically down just before elections and then went back up again after elections.

Gordon Brown's first act as Chancellor ten years ago was to give the Bank independence.

The Tories opposed the move.

The FT's headlined their story: Stability is prize of Bank's independence.

Cameron praises successful UK economy...

Britain today benefits from strong international leadership and a successful economy...

Who says David Cameron. The Tory Leader said, when talking about the UK:
...we can punch above our weight. We’re incredibly fortunate. We’ve got the English language, we’ve got a successful economy, we’ve got great links around the world through the Commonwealth, through the European Union, through our leadership in NATO, through our special relationship with America.
The successes he talks about are of course thanks to New Labour, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and could never be replicated by any Tory, particularly not David Cameron...

Successful economy?
Cameron's economic record is based on his time as adviser to the Tory Chancellor who presided over Black Wednesday and played his part in seeing huge numbers of families losing their homes.

Any remaining influence the Tories had in Europe ended when David Cameron pledged to withdraw his Members of the European Parliament from the moderate EPP. As a result European leaders, including Angela Merkel refuse to meet him.

Relationship with America?
Cameron’s side-kick, wee Georgie Osborne, was totally humiliated when he claimed he'd been invited to the White House to meet the US President. When the truth unravelled, it transpired that Osbourne was actually one of 125 delegates attending a conference during Malaria Awareness Day!

LibDem MP demands change to voting for EuroVision

BBC are reporting that a Lib Dem MP is complaining about unfairness in the voting system in the EuroVision Song Contest after UK came almost last on the weekend.

Apparently, he is demanding that UK withdraws from future contests unless the voting system is changed.

So look out for Terry Wogan next year explaining proportional representation!

Veggies boycott Mars bars...and Cheese'n'Onion crisps

Today's news that vegetarians will boycott Mars bars because they now contain animal products reminds me of an argument between two friends some years ago...

Both professed to be strict veggies, and while one was munching away on a packet of Cheese'n'Onion crisps, the other chose Bovril flavour.

After studying the ingredients listed on the packets, they agreed that in fact Bovril flavoured crisps were suitable for vegetarians, while Cheese and Onion were not as they contained animal products!

Each to his or her own, but I'm a meat'n'two veg guy myself!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Benny Hill and me at Trimdon Labour Club...?

An American friend messaged me to point out that I'm in this picture from Trimdon Labour Club which appeared in the Washington Post - and syndicated across many other papers around the world.

At least that's what I thought he was doing...until he asked why Benny Hill was with Tony Blair in Sedgefield.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Britain's better with Blair...

An absolute privilege for my wife Gill and myself to have been at Trimdon Labour Club yesterday to hear Tony Blair's announcement that he will step down as Prime Minister next month.

Many friends have been phoning and emailing to say they've seen my ugly mug in some of the media coverage including on Sky News and on the front page of the Daily Telegraph!

This wonderful image which has gone round the world was taken inside the event by Owen Hargreaves of the Press Association.

(Looking at the pic, I'm the happy clapper immediately to the left of the red Labour backdrop: Gill's in green, second row!)

It was, as reported, an emotional occasion, for the Prime Minister and his wife, and also for the warm-hearted members of Sedgefield Labour Party who have backed Tony Blair for almost a quarter of a century.

But it was also very moving for myself and others who have worked as Labour Party staff through the Blair Years start to finish.

I even detected a tear or two among some of the hardened press corps who have followed Blair throughout his political career.

Of course, it all began 24 years ago in Trimdon. So it was fitting that he should return there for his big announcement yesterday.

For me, his arrival and departure yesterday was reminiscent of the amazing event in Downing Street on that historic new dawn on Friday, 2 May 1997 which is often re-broadcast.

Britain has become better under his leadership. No more boom and bust. More jobs, more police, more doctors, more teachers: We no longer have an NHS on the point of collapse, schools no longer forced to put buckets out when it rains, more help for families, millions of pensioners and children lifted out of poverty...

And so much more.

That's Blair's legacy.

It was good to see him go out in style, not forced out of Downing Street in tears - as was Margaret Thatcher's fate.

A historic day indeed.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

'That was yesterday, this is today, tomorrow is tomorrow...'

The truly historic events in Northern Ireland today would have been impossible to even imagine just a short time ago: Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Unionist leader Ian Paisley, side-by-side, working together in a new power-sharing commitment at Stormont.

The only speech I heard in full from Stormont today were the wise, wise words from 80-year-old Ian Paisley who accepted office as First Minister as his sworn enemy Martin McGuinness was sworn in as Deputy First Minister.

Consigning the 'troubles' to history, Paisley said
'that was yesterday, this is today, and tomorrow is tomorrow.'
It was all the more astonishing, as I can't ever recall Paisley previously uttering anything that sounded like wise words in over three decades of conflict.

Just as astonishing today, was to hear McGuinness wishing Paisley 'all the best' as new First Minister...

Who would have thought we'd ever see the day when Sinn Fein leader shook hands with a serving British Prime Minister Tony Blair?

But the TV pictures I loved most today were those of Martin McGuinness posing for a snap with his mother and Tony Blair!

I'm sure we all wish that Paisley is right when he says:

I believe that Northern Ireland has come to a time of peace, a time when hatred will no longer rule.
I have to say my heart missed a beat later when I heard an unfortunate choice of words from one of the lesser politicians from the Province interviewed on 5Live.

He said local politicians were committed to peace, but went on:
we need the tools to do the job to be in our armoury...

I'm not sure exactly what he meant, but as long as he wasn't talking Armalites, there is hope!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Nil points for Tory in PM's backyard...

I failed to get elected in the local elections this week, but at least I can take heart that 652 people thought me worth voting for - that's 652 more votes than attracted by the hapless Tory candidate who stood in Tony Blair's backyard.

Shirley Bowes failed to attract a single vote - not even her own. .

Today's Daily Mail reports that the pensioner managed to come in with an almost unprecedented zero in the New Trimdon ward in Sedgefield where Tony Blair has his constituency home.

Shirley, said to be secretary of the South Durham hunt, couldn't even vote for herself because she lives outside the ward she was standing for.

She told the Mail she only stood as a favour to a friend:

I never have had any true political ambitions but I support the Conservatives and said I'd help out.

There was no Tory candidate in the ward and when my friend, who is a councillor asked me to stand I agreed so that at leats the party was represented.

No political ambition eh?

Sounds like she'd be the ideal Tory candidate to take on Ken Livingston in the next elections for London's Mayor...?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Sensational win as by pass campaigners take over Boston Town Hall...

Labour has taken control of Scunthorpe-based North Lincs Council directly from the Tories, while the Tories have gained Lincoln City from Labour.

But the most spectacular result across the East Midlands - and probably in the country - was the single-issue Boston By-pass Group taking control of their town hall.

They gained an astonishing 25 seats, wiping out Labour entirely and leaving Boston Borough with just five Conservative councillors.

It's good to see people power in action: but it will be interesting to see how they progress the case for a by-pass at Boston Borough Council.

I'm sure they realise that the highways authority is not Boston Borough, but Lincolnshire County Council...

But the result shouldn't come as a surprise. Boston has been gridlocked for years and the frustration has finally boiled over.

Wonder if we'll see a Grantham By Pass Action Group at the next elections?

MP's unjustified attack on me does the (dirty) trick..

Results are in for Deeping St James:

Ray Auger (Conservative) of Hereward Way.....968
Ken Joynson (LibDem) of Manor Way............943
Bryan Helyar (Conservative) of Langtoft......778
Fair Deal Phil Dilks (Labour) of Church St...652

So Ray, Bryan and Ken returned to represent us at Grantham.

Returns up to Wednesday showed me well ahead of Bryan - which is why the Tories resorted to portraying me as claiming a "staggering" amount in "expenses" as county councillor.

In fact, the Tories know the truth that I have never claimed a penny for the hundreds of 90-mile round trips I've had to make to fulfill my duties.

Yes, my leaflets were robust and obviously rattled them - but they were honest, justified and exposed the truth.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

MP Hayes sinks to new low in personal attack...

Until yesterday, I always believed that our local MP John Hayes was a decent sort, despite being firmly on the hard-right of the Conservative Party.

But he's decided to make an unjustified personal attack against me for accepting an allowance for my work as councillor for Deeping St James.

In a desperate dirty trick to damage my credibility in today's local elections, John Hayes delivered an eve-of-poll leaflet to my neighbours, portraying me as claiming a "staggering" amount in expenses.

As John Hayes and the Tories know, the truth is rather different.

Unlike him, and most other councillors, I have never claimed a penny in travel expenses.

Over the years, I could have claimed thousands of pounds for the 90-mile round trip backwards and forwards to the council's offices. The public record shows I've never claimed any of this entitlement.

Unlike some, I don't do it for the money!

Boat thief caught red-handed...

Sharp-eyed police officers on routine patrol in Cowbit on Tuesday decided to stop a four-wheel drive vehicle which was towing a large trailer and yacht.

But as the vehicle made off towards Weston, the boat fell off, flipping the trailer.

The 31-year-old driver from Wisbech was arrested and taken to Spalding Police station on suspicion of stealing the trailer - and the boat, as well as driving while disqualified.

Police later identified the boat and trailer were later as having been stolen from Deeping St Nicholas.

Hope police check the villain's yard to see if there's any sign of my old Ford Capri which was nicked from outside my garage last summer!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Deepings man missing after helicopter crash...UPDATE

A Deepings man may be one of those killed in a helicopter crash at Wansford in the early hours of this morning as a party flew back from last night's Chelsea-Liverpool match at Anfield.

Jonathan Waller, said to be a 42-year-old debt collector from Market Deeping, is believed to have been on board the crashed helicopter.

He had flown to Anfield yesterday with two friends - including honorary vice-president of Chelsea FC Phillip Carter who owned the aircraft. All three men are missing along with pilot Stephen Holdich.

Cambridgeshire Police confirmed this morning that four bodies have been found in the remains of a Twin Squirrel helicopter which came down in woods near Wansford.

According to the BBC, the aircraft took off from John Lennon Airport, Merseyside, at 2300 BST on Tuesday and the last contact was made with it just under two hours later.

It had been due to land at Mr Carter's home at Thornhaugh, west of Peterborough.

UPDATE: Peterborough Evening Telegraph now has further details and photo of Jon Waller.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Crime down again in Lincs...

Good news from Lincolnshire Police. Crime is down again over the past twelve months and detections are up. Here's the figures just released for the year:

Homes Burgled - DOWN
A fall of 4% on the year - that's 96 fewer houses broken into and builds on the massive reduction of 46% in the numbers of Lincs homes burgled since 2002/03.

Serious violent crimes - DOWN
A fall of 13% – that’s 816 fewer victims. Lincs Police have also used pro-active policing of the night-time economy to prevent more serious incidents, many resulting from excessive alcohol consumption. More than 1,600 people have been dealt with by way of Penalty Notice for Disorder during 2006/07.

Detecting Crime - UP.
The target was at least 13,500 'Sanctioned Detections'. The actual total was 14,731. In each one, someone has been charged, cautioned, reprimanded, warned, issued with a Penalty Notice for Disorder or the offence has been taken into consideration at court. This figure represents 27% detection rate of all recorded crime in Lincolnshire.

Killed or serious injured - DOWN.
Preliminary year-end figures indicate a 15% reduction was achieved during 2006/07. That's 59 fewer people killed or seriously injured.

Public satisfaction - UP.
Final figures not yet in, but likely to be up from 73% last year to around 80%.

Well done to Chief Constable Tony Lake and all his team.