Posts Tagged ‘Oldham East & Saddleworth’

Friday News Review

14/01/2011, 06:56:44 AM

NHS meltdown

Labour has accused Andrew Lansley of “disgraceful secrecy” for refusing to reveal what risks his officials believe the NHS shakeup poses to the health system. The Department of Health has admitted it has identified things that could go wrong as a direct result of its radical restructuring of the NHS in England. But it has rejected Labour’s request for details to be released under the Freedom of Information Act, arguing that such disclosure would impede ministers. Experts have warned that the reorganisation could hit the quality of care, lead to financial problems and make local NHS organisations less accountable. Many major NHS and medical organisations identified a large number of risks, in both the changes themselves and the period before they take effect in April 2013, when they responded to the recent government consultation on the controversial plans. John Healey, the shadow health secretary, began pursuing details of what risk assessment the health department or its advisers had undertaken to identify potential hazards caused by the biggest changes to the NHS since its creation in 1948. – Guardian

The coalition’s big idea for health is that while the government would still pay for NHS treatment, all commissioning will be carried out by private GP consortiums and service provision will be further opened up to private companies, with the odd sprinkling of not-for-profits. Market competition will drive up standards and lower costs, bringing value for money for taxpayers. So why not say so? In health secretary Andrew Lansley’s consultation on the reforms, due to close tomorrow, there is no use of the words ‘private’, ‘market’ or ‘commercial’. The issue is clouded over with the words “any willing provider” and “independent providers”. – Left Foot Forward

Was it ever in doubt

Debbie Abrahams secured a 3,558 majority – higher than their 1997 landslide – to give a boost to Ed Miliband’s leadership. The Liberal Democrats, who came within 100 votes of taking the seat in May, held on to second place. The Conservatives, who were accused of “soft-pedalling” in the contest in order to try and help their Coalition partners, came a distant third. Nick Clegg insisted the Lib Dems remained a “strong, united” party, despite the heavy loss. Leaving his London home this morning, the party leader insisted that it had been a good showing at what was a “challenging time” for the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. “I think the strong result in this by-election for the Liberal Democrats shows that whether we are in government or in opposition we remain a strong, united independent party whose values continue to attract support,” the Deputy Prime MInister said. – Telegraph

Labour’s Debbie Abrahams took 14,718 votes, over 3,500 more than the Liberal Democrats’ candidate, Elwyn Watkins, who was beaten by just 113 votes last May by Labour’s Phil Woolas, though Woolas was later ejected from his seat by court judges. However, the disappointing result for the Conservative candidate, Rashif Ali, who received just 4,481 votes, will strengthen Mr Cameron’s party critics, who have argued that the Conservatives failed to throw their weight behind Mr Ali because they wanted the Liberal Democrats to win. In her victory speech, Ms Abrahams said Oldham East and Saddleworth had delivered a message to Mr Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader, Mr Nick Clegg that they had “cutting too much and too fast”. The Labour victory came less than 12 hours after Greater Manchester Council, which is responsible for Oldham, announced that it would cut nearly 20 per cent of its staff over the next year, in an attempt to keep inside reduced Whitehall spending pledges. Delighted by the victory, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Mr Andy Burnham, said it marked “the first step” in rebuilding the party after last year’s election defeat: “I know it is going to be a long road, but it is the first step,” he told The Irish Times . – Irish Times

There was another election last night

Labour has secured its only seat on Cornwall Council after winning a by-election. Labour soared from fifth place at the last by-election in 2009 to win Camborne North. Jude Robinson, who stood as a Labour candidate in the general election in 2010, won 230 votes, a 15% swing from the Conservatives who came second. She called it a “turning point” for Labour, which also won Oldham East and Saddleworth parliamentary by-election. Ms Robinson said: “I am very pleased. “I worked hard and people have been told for a long time they can’t vote Labour here because that would let the Conservatives in. “But this has proved Labour is the opposition to the Conservatives. This is a turning point for us.” –

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Thursday News Review

13/01/2011, 04:52:11 AM

Here we go again

At their first shouting match of 2011 Mr Cameron called Mr Miliband “the nothing man”, while Mr Miliband accused Mr Cameron of making “pathetic excuses”. How heartening to find two statesmen so dedicated to upholding the tradition of vulgar personal abuse. Mr Cameron is a great master of gibes and flouts and jeers, while the Leader of the Opposition has quickly learned how to reciprocate the Prime Minister’s expressions of genuine personal contempt. But even those of us who revel in Punch and Judy politics cannot help feeling that this kind of thing might become a bit wearing if it happens every time the two men set eyes on each other. We could find ourselves in the position of neighbours who can hear the next door couple screaming at each other at every hour of the day and night. The Prime Minister is in danger of surrendering the moral high ground. It would perhaps be a good idea sometimes to speak in sorrow of Mr Miliband’s limitations, and sometimes to perplex him with offers of bipartisan action. Many at Westminster are ready to see in Mr Cameron an objectionably rich and arrogant friend to the bankers. This is very much the impression Mr Miliband wishes to foment, and by treating the Leader of the Opposition in such a dismissive fashion, Mr Cameron could start contributing to it. – Telegraph

Voters are headed to the polls in Oldham East and Saddleworth in the first by-election test of the new parliament. Polls in the marginal have suggested Labour is on course to win comfortably in what would be a major electoral setback for the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. However, anecdotal evidence points to a closer race and much may come down to turnout after polling stations open. The by-election was called after an election court declared last year’s contest void after finding that Labour victor Phil Woolas had made false statements about the Lib Dem candidate Elwyn Watkins. There were expectations of a local backlash against Labour because of the circumstances of the by-election, but the Lib Dems have also slumped dramatically in the polls since last May. Despite finishing just 103 votes behind Labour in last May’s general election, polls last weekend found Mr Watkins trailing by a massive 17 points. Prime Minister David Cameron has been repeatedly forced to deny that the Tories have run a half-hearted campaign in the by-election in a bid to bolster their Lib Dem coalition partners. Mr Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, and other Lib Dem ministers have paid numerous visits to the constituency to try to shore up their vote. The Deputy Prime Minister insisted this week that the result would be “pretty close”. – Press Association

The Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election descended into acrimony last night as Labour accused the Liberal Democrats of launching personal attacks on their candidate in a last ditch attempt to win the seat. Labour condemned Liberal Democrat leaflets suggesting that Labour’s candidate, Debbie Abrahams, had misled voters at the last general election about where she lived. The Liberal Democrats responded that they were merely highlighting the fact that Ms Abrahams had given two “obviously contradictory” statements at different elections. There was also concern within the Labour camp that Jack Straw’s criticism of the Pakistani community at the weekend for not being “more open” about the sexual grooming of young white girls had become an electoral factor among Muslim voters. Labour canvassers said they had overheard a Liberal Democrat supporter highlighting Mr Straw’s remarks to voters. The issue was also raised at a hustings held at a community centre in the Glodwick area of the former mill town, which is home to many voters of Pakistani descent and was the scene of severe rioting in 2001. – Independent

Illsley on his way

Eric Illsley yesterday bowed to pressure and said he would quit as an MP. The ex-Labour politician tried to cling to his seat despite being convicted of fiddling £14,500 expenses. But he agreed to clear his desk after being told he faced a cross-party motion ordering his expulsion from the Commons. He said he “deeply regretted” his actions and would resign before his sentencing next month. This would spark a by-election in his Barnsley Central seat. – Daily Mirror

The disgraced MP Eric Illsley today bowed to pressure and confirmed that he would resign his Commons seat, triggering a second potentially troublesome byelection for the coalition. The ex-Labour MP for Barnsley Central, currently sitting as an independent, pleaded guilty to defrauding the expenses system of £14,500 yesterday and is likely to face a spell in prison when he is sentenced next month. There was intense pressure on him to resign after it emerged that, if he receives a sentence of less than 12 months, he could have kept his seat, collecting his salary from prison. David Cameron and Ed Miliband had both called on him to go, describing his position as “untenable”. There was also cross-party pressure from his colleagues who wanted to avoid the House of Commons having to resort to procedures to eject an MP that are untested in recent times. The speaker refused to answer questions in the Commons earlier today after the possibility of a motion to expel Illsley was raised, saying that the issue remained sub judice until sentencing. It would have been the first time in 35 years that an MP had been expelled from the house by his colleagues. Illsley issued a statement apologising to his constituents, family and friends, saying he “deeply, deeply” regrets his actions. “I have begun to wind down my parliamentary office,” he confirmed, saying he would formally resign ahead of his sentencing. “I would like to apologise to my constituents, family and friends, following my court appearance, for the distress and embarrassment caused by my actions that I deeply, deeply regret,” he said. – Guardian (more…)

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Sunday News Review

09/01/2011, 07:50:04 AM

Straw comments spark race row amongst Labour MPs

A row around race and sexual exploitation flared last night as opponents and supporters reacted to a suggestion by Jack Straw that Pakistani men were grooming white girls for sexual abuse. The former home secretary was accused of attempting to “stereotype a whole community” after he suggested that some Pakistani men in Britain see white girls as “easy meat”. He was also criticised for not speaking out on the issue when his party was in power. – Independent on Sunday

Straw suggested young Pakistanis deliberately look for white girls and urged the Pakistani community to be “more open” about the issue. The Blackburn Labour MP said: “Pakistanis, let’s be clear, are not the only people who commit sexual offences, and overwhelmingly the sex offenders wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders. But there is a specific problem which involves Pakistani-heritage men … who target vulnerable young white girls. He claimed there is a “specific problem” after two Asians were jailed for targeting vulnerable teenagers. The issue of Pakistani men in the north of England allegedly grooming underage girls for sex also dominated headlines throughout the week. – Sunday Herald

However, Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said Mr Straw was wrong to accuse British Pakistani men of targeting white girls. “To generalise in this stereotypical manner and castigate a whole community is not becoming of him,” said Mr Mahmood. Mr Mahmood’s criticism was echoed by Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, who said: “I don’t think this is a cultural problem … I don’t think you can stereotype an entire community.” Mr Vaz added: “Why didn’t Jack Straw say something about this? He has represented Blackburn for 31 years, he has been the home secretary.” However, Ann Cryer, the former Labour MP for Keighley, West Yorkshire, said Mr Straw should be commended for highlighting a problem that, she said, Muslim MPs were not prepared to confront. “The vast majority of young Asian men are fine, but there’s a minority who do not behave properly towards white women and sweeping it under the carpet will only make matters worse,” she said. – Sunday Telegraph

Polls point to Labour win

Labour is on course for a thumping win in next week’s Oldham East and Saddleworth byelection, according to opinion polls, in what would be a devastating blow to the Liberal Democrats. Despite losing the seat by just 103 votes at last year’s general election and although the Tories are allegedly holding back their campaign at David Cameron’s request, Nick Clegg’s party trails by 17 points in two separate surveys of voters in the key marginal. It will be seen as a resounding thumbs-down to the Lib Dems’ role in the Conservative-led coalition government. Labour blitzed the constituency with 500 campaigners yesterday as Ed Miliband made a new overture to disgruntled Lib Dems. The Labour leader urged people to “send a message about the betrayal on fees”. Portraying the Lib Dems as locked into a Tory agenda that many do not support, he added: “For the first time since this Conservative-led government was formed, voters will have their chance to pass judgment on David Cameron and Nick Clegg. They can show the government what they feel about police cuts both here and across the country. And they can make clear their anger about a VAT rise that is the wrong tax at the wrong time.” – Observer

The first out of the stocks (with changes from the General Election) are the ICM and Populus polls
ICM have CON 18%(-8), LAB 44%(+12), LDEM 27%(-5)
Populus have CON 15%(-11), LAB 46%(+14), LDEM 29(-3)
So both have Labour substantially up on their general election support and the Lib Dems dropping less than the third placed Conservatives. Rumour has it that the third poll, from Survation, has a bigger squeeze on the Conservative vote with them pushed down to single figures. The Labour and Lib Dem campaigns seem broadly equal – just over 70% recall getting leaflets from the two parties, about 20% have been doorstepped by them, about 20% have been phoned by them. In comparison only 57% have had a Conservative leaflet, 7% had them on their doorstep and 5% been phoned by them. Populus also asked how people would have voted had there been a joint Con-LD candidate – I make the repercentaged figures for that Lab 47%, Con/LD 38% – so it would have been a little closer – UK Polling Report

David Miliband to do a Portillo?

David Miliband is considering a role in television, in a surprise move that appears to dash his brother Ed’s hopes that he can be persuaded to join the shadow cabinet. The Labour leadership candidate has approached the BBC with a number of programme ideas. It is unclear whether Miliband wants to front one-off documentaries or a series of shows, but it is thought all his proposals would involve him taking a starring role on screen. In a statement, a spokesman for Miliband said: “David is talking to a range of organisations about his interest in foreign and environmental policy.” A BBC spokesman confirmed: “David Miliband has approached the BBC with some programme ideas. The BBC receives suggestions from a wide variety of sources and these will be considered in the same way as any others.” Industry sources believe he has held informal talks with executives at the corporation, however. – Observer

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Saturday News Review

18/12/2010, 09:12:04 AM

Government’s immigration policy “chaos”

A temporary cap on the number of skilled workers from outside the EU allowed into the UK was introduced “unlawfully”, the High Court has ruled. Home Secretary Theresa May introduced the cap this summer as an interim measure ahead of a permanent cap. But a legal challenge to it was upheld with judges ruling that ministers had “sidestepped” Parliamentary scrutiny. The Home Office said this did not imperil its flagship immigration policy but Labour said it was in “chaos”. The BBC’s Home Affairs Correspondent Danny Shaw said the ruling was an embarrassment and a setback for the coalition but was not a fatal blow to its plan for a permanent cap on non-EU migration. – BBC

Critics say the ruling is important for British business as the current cap is damaging industry in the UK. The changes were deliberately intended to give the minister flexibility and the ability to change the numbers allowed in to work, without having to go before Parliament for scrutiny. Lord Justice Sullivan said: “The Secretary of State made no secret of her intentions. There can be no doubt that she was attempting to sidestep provisions for Parliamentary scrutiny set up under provisions of the 1971 Immigration Act, and her attempt was for that reason unlawful.” The changes introduced were substantive and should have been laid before Parliament, he said. – Press Association

Actress files dossier on hacking

The past week has seen several more twists in the Andy Coulson saga. Far from resolving the allegations surrounding the UK prime minister’s principal media adviser, they have only served to muddy the waters further… There remains a need for a deeper inquiry. An independent review of the police investigations would be a start. The Miller claim also raises questions about News International. Its executives have told a parliamentary committee that only one journalist was involved in the hacking. Ms Miller’s dossier casts doubt on this. Mr Coulson’s position is not untenable. It may be true that, as he claims, he was unaware of what his staff were up to. He made that claim again this week – under oath as a witness in the perjury trial of a former Scottish politician. But while the drip of claim and counter-claim continues, this affair cannot be put to rest. And without a resolution, it will continue to undermine Mr Coulson’s credibility and, by extension, that of the prime minister. – The FT

The document suggests that the hacking of the two actors was part of a wider scheme, hatched early in 2005, when Mulcaire agreed to use ”electronic intelligence and eavesdropping” to supply the paper with daily transcripts of the messages of a list of named targets from the worlds of politics, royalty and entertainment. The evidence explicitly contradicts the account of the News of the World and its former editor Andy Coulson, who is now chief media adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron. They claimed that Goodman was the only journalist involved in phone hacking. He and Mulcaire were jailed in 2007. The disclosure is embarrassing for Scotland Yard, which has held a large cache of evidence for more than four years but failed to investigate it. – Sydney Morning Herald

Cameron discourages Tories in Oldham East

The best tactic for beating Labour might seem to be for the Tories quietly to encourage their supporters to fall in behind Mr Watkins. However, his share of the vote fell in 2010. The reason the contest was so close was that a chunk of the Labour vote defected to the Tory, Kashif Ali. With the Lib Dems in trouble nationally, many of the Tories argue that Mr Ali is the more credible challenger. So they will not have been pleased to hear what David Cameron had to say yesterday: “The context of the by-election is that the MP elected at the election has been found in court to have told complete untruths about his opponent… In that context, we wish our partners well. They had an extremely tough time. All the unfairnesses and untruths about their candidate [Mr Watkins] – he’s now been exonerated. So of course I wish them well.” He did not sound like a leader intent on victory. – The Independent

The prime minister yesterday appeared to slacken Conservative resolve in the forthcoming Oldham East and Saddleworth byelection, doling out generous words for the Lib Dems’ election effort. Liberal Democrats have been canvassing hard in the constituency for the seven months since the general election victory there by Labour‘sPhil Woolas, which they immediately set about contesting. Nick Clegg’s party missed out on the seat by just 104 votes in May, but the result was declared void last month by an election court that found that Woolas had made false statements about his Lib Dem rival Elwyn Watkins. This week, the Liberal Democrats defied convention to call the date of the byelection, when it is usually the incumbent party who move the writ. – The Guardian

What a principled bunch

Nick Clegg’s position should be understood and forgiven. He is instinctively a conservative, and he should not be blamed for following his heart and head. It is the so-called progressives who have betrayed what they once insisted were their principles. A half-hearted revolt over student fees is not enough to salvage their reputation. Nor is Simon Hughes’s occasional grand-standing about coalition policies that he never actually opposes. No Lib Dem who was offered a place in the government declined to serve. No groups have been formed within the party to oppose the coalition in principle. Danny Alexander is the boy who stands on George Osborne’s burning deck and Vince Cable is the self-appointed captain of David Cameron’s praetorian guard. – The Guardian

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What now after Woolas? Is the campaign playbook facing a re-write?

11/11/2010, 12:00:00 PM

by Dave Collins

FROM the glorious revolution onward, “anything goes” has been the default position for British election literature, subject principally to the deterrence provided by England and Wales’ notoriously plaintiff-friendly defamation legislation. The Oldham East & Saddleworth judgement asks a lot of questions about whether this is going to continue. British political communications could be transformed.

UK election campaigns have a long record of controversy and allegations of skulldugery. A classic was the 1784 Westminster election in which supporters of the prime minister, William Pitt, backed by the palace, organised to oppose the return of star Whig politician, Charles James Fox, in the seat with the widest popular franchise in Great Britain. According to the Wikipedia entry, “both sides spent heavily, campaigned bitterly, allegedly libelled and slandered their opponents relentlessly and resorted to all kinds of tactics, including Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire touring the streets and, according to the opposition, kissing many voters to induce them to vote for Fox”.

Subtle. But does it constitute misrepresentation?

Following Fox’s victory by 6,233 votes to 5,998, a prolonged scrutiny of the votes (similar to Florida’s ‘hanging chads’ dispute in 2004) was used by the high bailiff as a pretext to delay making the return. Until finally, 10 months later, the House voted 162-124 against the government, in effect finding Pitt guilty of illicit intriguing against his leading opponent.

More contemporary controversies include Smethwick (1964), in which the Conservative candidate who defeated Patrick Gordon-Walker ran an openly racist campaign, employed the slogan “if you want a nigger for your neighbour – vote Liberal or Labour”. Victorious PM Harold Wilson promptly elevated Gordon Walker to the peerage and made him foreign secretary, while calling for the new MP, Peter Griffiths, to be made a “parliamentary leper”. Griffiths lost the seat in 1966, being kicked out by the voters rather than as the consequence of legal action.

In 1992 Gerald Malone, defeated in Winchester by just two votes, did go to court arguing that 55 ballots voided for lack of official mark should have been counted. He won the case and the election of Mark Oaten for the Lib Dems was voided. Oaten however went on to win the resulting by-election with a handsome 10,000 majority. This swing against Malone was taken by many as evidence that voters tend to react against attempts to overturn election results via the courts on technicalities and the 1992 Winchester by-election result, together with the costs incurred by both parties, have generally served to discourage similar cases ever since.

In the 1997 New Labour landslide, the election of Fiona Jones for Newark was overturned after she and her (volunteer) agent were found guilty by the high court of failing correctly to declare some costs on the expenses return and thereby exceeding campaign spending limits. Neither Jones nor her agent had expected to win and ran a rather shambolic campaign, directed equally toward the concurrent local elections in which the local Labour party did expect to be able to make gains. Not anticipating victory, they failed to budget for the campaign properly, or to track spending once it had started. Exactly like Phil Woolas, Fiona Jones was initially defended by Labour party solicitors, but dropped like a stone once convicted and disqualified on March 19th 1999. (more…)

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