The library service in Cambridgeshire is safe in our Conservative hands. Nice for it to be recognised nationally.
Archive for December, 2011
It seems Labour are back in love with the Lib Dems and as always the Lib Dems don’t know which way to turn. The trouble is no one knows which way they will turn on most issues. It seems rather than argue policy everything is about trying to snare some more votes on matters they think are popular.
Interestingly, I meet lots of Conservative council leaders and of course we discuss a range of matters. Almost without exception labour, whilst we don’t agree with their policies, are seen as a party of principle with policies and ideas whilst the Lib Dems are seen as wreckers who oppose everything and have no policies. Reassuring as I thought it was just like that in Cambridgeshire !!!
The other common theme mentioned by leaders is that the Lib Dems like to rubbish the Conservative party but when they are criticised they go all damp eyed and squeal its not fair. Bless the poor dears.
The Lib Dem split is detailed in the FT.
An interesting piece in the Telegraph which I have included below together with a link. There is something about the Lib Dem party that makes it ok for everyone to pull in different directions. Cute and child like when in opposition but a disaster if let anywhere near the levers of power.
David Cameron flew to the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday afternoon with Nick Clegg’s warm endorsement of his European policy ringing in his ears.
Earlier that day, the Deputy Prime Minister had insisted he was working “in lockstep, hand in glove” with Mr Cameron on European issues.
Hours earlier, Mr Cameron had insisted he “would not hesitate” to veto a treaty among the 27 EU members that did not offer new legal safeguards for the City of London.
Speaking on Thursday afternoon, Mr Clegg said that Britain “must do everything we can to avoid a great big split in the EU.”
But he went on to back the Prime Minister’s approach to the summit, which had been agreed with the Liberal Democrats earlier in the week.He said: “As we are supportive to the eurozone so they can sort their problems out, in return they introduce safeguards to ensure … that the single market is not fragmented and that important industries like the financial services industry are treated fairly. Not exceptional treatment, but are just simply treated fairly, on a level playing field within Europe.
After making that statement, Mr Clegg travelled to his Sheffield constituency. In Brussels, Mr Cameron, his aides and officials were digging in for an all-night session of talks. In Sheffield, Mr Clegg went to bed.
By 4am GMT on Friday, it became clear in Brussels that Mr Cameron’s demands had been rejected by other EU leaders. After talks were suspended – but not ended – Nicolas Sarkozy gave a press conference saying Mr Cameron’s requests were unacceptable.
As he spoke, Mr Cameron called colleagues including Mr Clegg to talk about the summit. According to Mr Clegg’s aides, he was asleep and was woken by the call.
Yesterday, Mr Clegg was asked about the call. He said: “My immediate reaction was I said this was bad for Britain and you know I made it clear to the Prime Minister of course that it was untenable for me to welcome it.”
After 5am GMT on Friday, Mr Cameron gave a press conference saying he had effectively wielded Britain’s veto on a treaty of 27.
Around four hours later, Mr Clegg’s aides told journalists that they were “disappointed” by the outcome in Brussels, but accepted the Prime Minister’s decision to reject participation in the proposed treaty.
Midmorning, Mr Clegg issued a statement. He “regretted” the outcome, but said the UK demands on financial services had been “reasonable”.
He said: “I regret that last night it proved to be impossible to find a way forward as a group of 27 on European treaty change.”
Significantly, he added: “The demands Britain made for safeguards, on which the coalition Government was united, were modest and reasonable.”
But as Friday unfolded, it became clear that the Coalition parties were anything but “united”. Lib Dem MPs and MEPs lined up to denounce the Prime Minister in dramatic terms; one accused Mr Cameron of “betraying” his country.
Perhaps most significantly, Lord Oakeshott, a senior Lib Dem peer said the deal was “a black day for Britain and Europe. We are now in the waiting room while critical decisions are being taken.”
Lord Oakeshott is a close friend of Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and often seen as his unofficial political spokesman.
At a Cabinet meeting last Monday in Ipswich, Mr Cable had questioned Mr Cameron’s European stance, arguing that too much was being done to protect the “special interest” of the City.
He was subsequently overruled by Mr Clegg, who said the Lib Dems would back the Prime Minister.
The hint of Mr Cable’s anger on Friday was the first clue that Mr Clegg was now under intense pressure from his party.
The Lib Dem angst was fuelled by a succession of eurosceptic Tory MPs publicly exulting about the summit. For many Tories, after months of swallowing Lib Dem-inspired Coalition policies, the veto was sweet revenge on their unloved Coalition partners.
And at the summit itself – which continued until 3pm on Friday – it became clear that far from splitting into 17 euro members and 10 non-participants, the numbers looked more like 26 vs 1.
At 3pm on Friday, Mr Cameron briefed journalists in Brussels about the summit and the Coalition.
“This was a coalition position,” he said. “I worked very closely with Nick Clegg in the run-up to this. It was an agreed position, it was a very reasonable position.”
Less than two hours later, Mr Clegg, still in Sheffield, spoke again, shifting his position on the summit.
He continued to insist that Britain’s demands had been “reasonable” but he gave a new warning about the effect of the veto.
He said: “I think any eurosceptic who might be rubbing their hands in glee about the outcome of the summit last night should be careful for what they wish for, because clearly there is potentially an increased risk of a two-speed Europe in which Britain’s position becomes more marginalised, and in the long-run that would be bad for growth and jobs in this country.”
During Saturday, Mr Clegg said nothing publicly, but his aides and colleagues were hard at work. The Lib Dem leader also held a series of conference calls with ministers and senior MPs to test the mood.
During the day, it emerged Mr Cable had given an interview to the Sunday Times, where he made clear he was not happy with the Brussels deal struck by Mr Cameron.
That intervention was guaranteed to be front-page news the next day. It also raised a vital question for Mr Clegg: would he stick to his line of lukewarm, conditional support for the deal and allow Mr Cable to express the anger of his party? Or would he too express that anger?
Mr Clegg may be the Lib Dem leader but he has only shallow roots in the party. Mr Cable, by contrast, is loved by Lib Dem activists, some of whom regard him as a more authentic voice of left-leaning “social Liberalism”.
Allowing Mr Cable to lead the Lib Dem charge against the Brussels deal would have further weakened Mr Clegg’s position in his own party.
Worse would be another public attack on the deal by Tim Farron, the Lib Dem president seen as future leadership contender from the party’s Left. On Saturday, he told Sunday newspapers the Brussels deal was a disaster.
Having been confronted with the scale of his colleagues’ anger, and their willingness to go public with that anger, Mr Clegg determined that he had to change his tone from the considered statement he had issued on Friday morning.
That change had two stages. First, his aides briefed the Sunday newspapers that, actually, the summit outcome had inspired in Mr Clegg a fury he had not hitherto expressed
“Nick certainly doesn’t think this is a good deal for Britain, for British jobs or British growth,” one Lib Dem “source” told the Independent on Sunday.
According to the source, Mr Clegg “couldn’t believe it” when, on Friday morning, he was informed of the course of events and how Mr Cameron had sought to negotiate with fellow EU leaders.
Quite how that briefing can be reconciled with Mr Clegg’s assurance on Friday that the “coalition Government was united” on Mr Cameron’s “reasonable” demands remains an open question.
The second stage of Mr Clegg’s shift came at around 9.30am yesterday morning when he appeared on the Andrew Marr programme on BBC One and denounced the Brussels deal as bad for Britain.
If the intention was to communicate Mr Clegg’s new message, the interview was a spectacular success. The interview led news bulletins all day, almost every front page on Monday morning.
But did Mr Clegg go too far?
Some observers suspect that believing himself to have been too cautious on Friday,
Mr Clegg then acted too recklessly on Sunday. His repeated attacks on the deal and the lurid language he employed (Britain risks becoming “a pygmy in the world”) raised real questions about how he could work with Mr Cameron in the future.
Was the Coalition itself now wobbling?
The suspicion that Mr Clegg had overplayed his hand was fuelled by an appearance on BBC Radio Four on Monday morning by Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
Mr Alexander is as pro-European as any Lib Dem, having once worked for the Britain in Europe campaign group. He is also as trusted by Mr Clegg as any Lib Dem minister. He speaks with his leader’s authority.
So it was significant that he took a much more emollient tone on the Prime Minister and his deal.
Mr Cameron “had a very difficult hand to play,” Mr Alexander said, sympathising with the Prime Minister for both “real intransigence from France and Germany” and the “clear need” to bring something back to the House of Commons for Tory backbenchers.
And answering the questions his leader’s shifting position had raised, Mr Alexander insisted: “This doesn’t threaten the Coalition.”
At our recent Cabinet we approved a bypass for Ely to unblock the jams at the rail crossing. Currently there is an underpass for cars and a crossing for HGVs. The problem is that as the HGVs back up, waiting for trains to go pass, they then block the underpass so cars are held up as well. This is happening for over 30 mins in every hour. The rail line is being upgraded so the
problem is going to increase.
Delays are also caused by vehicles driving into the underpass structure. During a significant consultation with local people from Ely over 80% chose a new bypass, option B. Around 4% wanted the underpass improving. Add to that issues of the flood plain, vehicles hitting the underpass and the fact that it will limit the expansion of Ely option B seemed obvious.
Now I find, the Liberal Democrat Councillor Nigel Bell has taken it upon himself to call in the decision along with a couple of other wreckers. He wants a better underpass which only 4% of the people want. This means all progress will stop on this vital improvement for Ely and the county until scrutiny has gone over it all again.
If over 80% of local people want option B I would have thought the democratic part of Liberal Democrat might have helped him. I suspect some opposition members think they have to oppose everything even if it obviously the right thing. Meanwhile the people of Cambridgeshire suffer.
As we approach Christmas I thought I might indulge myself in reflecting on my time as leader since April.
The time seems to have shot past and I have really enjoyed myself. My thanks to my own Conservative group for giving me the honour to lead them. As a team the protection and support my group bring to me is very valued. We are certainly a broad church in our thinking but like all families we pull together when it is needed.
It feels that my cabinet is making a real difference and I pay tribute to all their hard work, tolerance of my energetic approach and challenge and to how well they have blended as a team. This council is now really led by politicians.
I would also like to recognise the high quality of our staff and their dedication, compassion and modern thinking. Despite all the challenges they remain focused on delivery of high quality service to the people of Cambridgeshire.
Our unions have provided me with an insight into how employee relations can work. I see our unions as a really effective and pragmatic group who work hard to not only protect union members but also have the council and the public at the front of thinking.
Before becoming leader, I had no idea how complex and varied our interactions with partner organisations are. It feels that this council has embraced partner working and really understands the benefits this can bring. It seems we are developing excellent relationships with our partners and I have particularly enjoyed working with peers at the district councils. As leaders, we all seem to have gelled, which makes joint working so much easier.
The list of organisations and individuals I have met in the last few months is huge. From ministers, MPs, universities, colleges, schools, police, fire, NHS, clergy, charities, community groups, business leaders, trade organisations, developers and many others they all have one thing in common and that is to make things better for the people of Cambridgeshire. Really very impressive.
We have a tradition of free press in this country and no more so than in Cambridgeshire. I have enjoyed the challenge and scrutiny that this provides as well as my personal interactions with individuals. A whole new set of skills I have had to learn to avoid the bear traps and to ensure the excellent work that is being carried out by the council is explained to the public.
I must pay tribute to the small team of three labour councillors who have provided significantly more thoughtful and principled challenge than their small numbers suggests. I have also enjoyed the minor skirmishing with the Lib Dems and look forward to them hopefully starting to provide a meaningfully opposition next year.
Coming into politics only recently, has meant I am not shackled by history or past process in the same way others might be. With the significant budget pressures we face and a growing population ever more hungary for our services we must think and work in a different way. We must be fleet of foot, less risk adverse, focused on outputs and delivery and be prepared for difficult decisions. Under my leadership that is exactly what we shall do. Apologies to those who find comfort in lengthy decision making processes and endless meetings, Now is not the time.
We have already signalled strongly that we expect Cambridgeshire to be the top county in the country, what ever that might mean. We have also stated we expect the county to be “open for business”. We have all the attributes available to achieve this and I am determined we will. We must continue to deal with the huge inequalities across our county. Not by dumbing down but by building on our successes and spreading this across the county.
Finally, let us all spare a thought for those who are are less fortunate. Let’s us all keep an eye out for the lonely, sick and vulnerable and offer them a helping hand.
Merry Christmas to you all.
Cabinet started with me proposing that an item to be dealt with after the public had been excluded should be heard in public. Cabinet supported this view. The issue was our response to the local government ombudsman who found a case of maladministration in our handling of the transfer of responsibility for the education of a young man with a statement to another authority. Mistakes are never good but when made need to be recognised publicly, when ever possible, so we can all learn. This is the first time we have failed, like this, since 2004. Mistakes happen. We need to learn and put in place the right systems to prevent it happening again.
It was good to hear from a petitioner who spoke with feeling about road safety in Ely. As a result the cabinet member has agreed to have a site visit to explore the concerns. On the face of it the concerns seem well founded.
It was interesting that when the Ely crossing item came up the only person who doesn’t want to see option B was the local Liberal Democrat member Councillor Bell.
81% of local people, who responded to the consultation, the district council and the MP’s all support option B yet for some reason Councillor Bell has decided that local views are not important. He wants an underpass which only has the support of 4% of people, would be difficult to manage during construction, is liable to flood and leaves us with the current problem of vehicles hitting the underpass supports which is a safety issue. How odd!!!!
The item on Civil Parking Enforcement was also a little odd. The previous government thought it would be sensible to centralise this work under the County Council. District councils have indicated they don’t want it and the general population frankly don’t have a strong view but can’t really see the point in the change.
The Liberal Democrat speakers never once talked about CPE but for some strange reason tried to turn it into a debate on consultation process. All very interesting but not on the agenda. It looked feeble and was irrelevant to the item for discussion. I suspect me pulling them back to the item in question ruffled a few feathers. CPE doesn’t feel like something we should be getting involved with. We have enough core business of our own to worry about.
The integrated resources and performance report demonstrated excellent financial management by our team. We really are blessed with sharp financiers led by Councillor Steve Count who has grown into this role brilliantly.
Other items included alterations to a school in Hardwick, the building of a County School in Wisbech, the future of the park and ride service and delivery of public services in the new town of Northstowe.
Reflecting on contributions. A good petitioner, strong contribution from Labour but a consistently weak performance from the Lib Dems. This concerns me as such a weak opposition is not good for democracy.
All in all a good cabinet,
Great lunch with members of the chamber of commerce. The chairman of our LEP gave an excellent speech on the work of the LEP.
A great opportunity to network with the business community as well as other politicians.
At 0800 on Friday I had my regular ASC review meeting. This group has been put together to focus on driving the budget overspend down. Lots of good ideas however, most will only produce results over time. Short term fixes are much harder to find.
Great meeting with Warren. We explored a number of ideas to promote business in Cambridgeshire. Always good to meet with senior captains of industry.
Full council was interesting. I started at 0800 in my office preparing. Last minute discussions were had including some with the opposition to manage the business of the day.
Lots of motions kept us busy most of the day, with a little light relief in the shape of carol singing at lunchtime. Some old fashioned thinking on bus subsidies from the Lib Dems provoked some excitement but nothing that represented particularly effective opposition.
Interestingly, without a doubt, the Labour group of 3 members provide significantly more challenge than the 21 Lib Dems. I suspect it is because the Labour group challenge on the basis of policy and principle rather than just opposing everything to try and win votes.