Westley Vale Millennium Green and Tory Helicopter
Today was another "roadshow" day where we visit shopping centres. Before that, however, I joined with the other trustees of the Westley Vale Millennium Green
to tidy up the site. Just in case people do not believe that a candidate in a suit will pick up rubbish, here is a photo of me picking up rubbish.
and a picture of the rubbish I collected in about 15 minutes.
We then visited the Wheatsheaf Shopping Centre, Yew Tree and Poolway Shopping centres. Everyone seemed very friendly even the Labour Party.
After that I saw a novel campaigning technique from the Conservatives. It appears that they have decided to get a helicopter to tow a large sheet with a message on it.
The message "Imagine 5 more years of Blair", is, however, not exactly what we would call positive campaigning. In fact it argues strongly for people to swing to the Liberal Democrats. After all the Independent's research
shows that if people swing from Labour to Lib Dem it will not let the tories in.
Last night was the only hustings event held in Yardley. There was a hustings event in 1992 and 1997, but not in 2001. Unsurprisingly and sadly few people turned up. The three active Conservatives turned up and the main activist base for the Labour Party turned up. I estimate that there were about 6 people who were non-aligned in an audience of about 20. It was ably chaired by Rev Brian Camp who is the Vicar of Sheldon Church and was held in their Church Hall.
I would not say that is shed any real light on the issues of the campaign, but it was useful to have a proper political meeting during the election campaign. I did not have any questions planted in the audience and almost all of the questions were planted by the Labour Party and addressed against me. That, however, is entirely what I expected and I have no complaints.
Five News exposes postal vote-rigging
Five News's Press Release
A Five News investigation has exposed how easy it is to rig the postal
As six million people prepare to vote by post, Five News successfully
obtained multiple votes in two constituencies, highlighting just how open
to abuse the system is.
This is the first time the ease of MULTIPLE fraud has been exposed in the
postal voting system.
The broadcaster downloaded and completed Internet application forms for
postal voting from the Electoral Commission's website. No form of id was
submitted, nor did Five News get permission from the voters.
Five News identified a number of obviously empty or derelict properties
and then checked the Electoral Roll to find the identity of those registered
voters. In every case, voters were still shown as being registered at the
properties, even though they clearly no longer lived there.
Internet application forms for postal voting were then completed and
submitted with a request to send the ballot papers to a different address.
In Birmingham (Edgbaston constituency) Five News applied for and received
multiple ballot papers.
It also applied for four ballot papers in the Warley constituency
(Sandwell Council). Within days it received all four voting forms.
Five News will run today at 11.30am with a full report at 5.30pm.
Note to editors
The names of electors have been submitted to the Electoral Commission so
no genuine votes will be lost, along with a letter from Five News explaining
how it exploited the inherent weaknesses in the present postal voting
The investigation took place from 23 April, when the first forms were
submitted through to 28 April when the first ballot papers arrived.
Five News' investigation follows comments made by senior judge Richard
Mawrey QC, who attacked the postal voting system in early April,
condemningthe government for complacency in the face of fraud which would disgrace a
"banana republic". Mr Mawrey, who was presiding over a special election
court in Birmingham, warned that there were no realistic systems in place
to detect or prevent postal voting fraud at the general election.
As far as I can tell they had 6 votes diverted. I would not say this is the first time the ease of such fraud had been demonstrated.
I attended three meetings today (as well as other campaigning issues).
One was a meeting at Sheldon Heath Arts College. One of the issues that came up was school dinners. It was clear that the Labour representative had no practical proposals for improving school dinners.
The next meeting was a review with parties of the plans for the election from the Returning Officer. Although things are a lot better this year, there is still a tendency to give political parties the "Mushroom treatment". We only found out today that postal votes were posted from Manchester on Tuesday and Wednesday this week - when they had assured me they would be posted on monday.
There is a clear lack of understanding of a need to provide timely information as to what is happening.
The evening hustings was about the NHS run by NHS Concern. This had some interesting elements to it. The UKIP candidate thrown out of Monday's Gay Community Hustings was allowed to argue her case at this.
I argued the case as to the damage done by rigid targets to the NHS. I think the consequences of central control of the NHS are being recognised when people cannot book appointments in advance to see GPs.
Last Night was the founding meeting for Birmingham Citizens. It was well organised and is a good sign mainly from the inner areas of Birmingham.
Relatively good news on Postal Votes in Brum
Although there remain votes that are misdirected and there still appear to be 22 voters who are getting two postal votes, the final lists of postal votes have now been issued.
The total across the city is only 57,000. This is in fact about 13,000 fewer than last year's European and Local Elections.
Having superficially reviewed the postal votes it appears that mass postal vote fraud will not be part of these elections in Birmingham. That does not mean that there will be no fraud. However, it does mean that the fraud will be less.
That also does not mean that personation will not occur. However, with sufficient Polling Agents we have a reasonable chance of picking that up. We will also have some patrols to follow the personators from polling station to polling station so we can collect evidence as to who is personating.
The individuals personating can receive jail sentances as a result. With a bit of luck, therefore, we should be able to prevent a proportion of the personations as well.
Plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose
What we had today was
- A 12 year old boy with a poll card (twas ever thus) (Hodge Hill)
- A voter who has been left off the electoral roll - who found out when Lynne Jones walked past her door. (Selly Oak)
- 22 voters who (it appears) will be getting two postal votes (sometimes for the same constituency, sometimes for different ones. (Across the city)
- 10 voters in Aston who still are getting their votes sent to someone else. (Ladywood Constituency mainly, possibly Perry Barr)
Still it appears that we have frightened off the mass fraud. I will, of course, only be sure that this is the case when I get the list of postal votes from the second batch. We are expecting a level of personation and will be appointing around 100 anti-personation "Polling Agents" in a number of seats. We will also have patrols to bring in the Fraud squad where postal votes are being collected from people.
In the mean time Clare Short has been avoiding meetings with Ayoub Khan.
The police are, however, being golden. Thank you Dave Churchill and the Fraud Squad.
Tories admit little chance of winning (2-0 down)
Michael Howard the Tory leader has said that his party is now 2-0 down at half time. I am told that on an analysis of last season's Premiership and Football league games there were 214 games in which one side was 2-0 down at half time. In only 5 instances did the side losing at that stage win. It is rumoured that on each of those occasions it was against Southampton, but no-one has sourced that rumour.
What Howard actually said was:"I am a football fan. You often find if you are a football fan there is a team that might be two goals down at half-time, [but] they win the game."
So "often" is 2.3% of the time.
Tony Blair has no plans to invade Iran
Tony Blair said previously:"Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education."
and that Labour had "no plans" to increase National Insurance.
Ayoub Khan, Mike Whitby and myself spoke at the Vaisakhi in Handsworth Park today.
The Vaisakhi is the celeration of the creation of the Khalsa which happened 306 years ago. There are two marches one from Birmingham and one from Sandwell which meet up in the park.
There is a stage with Sikh music and various stalls. Anyone is welcome to come and as with many of Birmingham's celebrations gradually a wider range of people is attending.
I visited the St George's Day celebration yesterday in Victoria Square, but sadly did not have time to take from campaigning to go to the concert. We also have a number of melas, a Carnival and the St Patrick's day parade. The top attendance is at St Patrick's day with about 100,000. Vaisakhi attracts about 40,000 people. There are about 50-60,000 Sikhs in Birmingham and probably about the same in the Black Country. This means that at least 1 in 4 of Birmingham's Sikhs attends Vaisakhi.
The Sikhs raised the same question that Scouts raise which is about the cost of road closures. Some time ago it was decided (probably by the police authority) that they didn't want to have parades without roads being closed off with barriers. This is something that really needs reviewing and I will ensure that this happens. The cost of road closures is quite high (estimated at £100,000 for the Vaisakhi. The City's contribution is 25% of that.)
The Vaisakhi, which has been commemorated in Birmingham since 1992, is organised by the Council of Sikh Gurdwaras which represents 14 of the Gurdwaras in Birmingham.
The oddest reason for invading Iraq
I am speaking at two public meetings later today in Clare Short's Constituency. I have, therefore, hunted up Clare Short's reasoning for supporting going to war in Iraq. I have always found this the oddest reason. One of her reasons was:"We should also consider taking military action if it is necessary to minimise suffering and to maximise the speed with which Iraq is reconstituted so that it gets up and going and its economy is improved."Hansard 30th January 2003 Column 1052 - see link
So Clare's argument is that the Iraq invasion was necessary:so that ... its economy is improved
Does that mean that given the problems at Longbridge (caused by the government) she will be calling for the government to invade Northfield?
Skills, Pastry and degrees
Apart from ordinary campaigning I also attended two Birmingham Hustings sessions today. At both of them the issue of scrapping tuition fees came up. There was also the question of how we obtain better skills.
I take a slightly unorthodox position on the matter of tertiary education. For example I have great difficulty understanding why someone should have a Batchelor of Science degree to be a pastry chef.
This comes to the link.
The course is: International Culinary Arts (Pastry) BSc (Hons)"This course prepares you for a career in the international hospitality industry and enables you to seek a position as a pastry chef or senior pastry cook on graduation. Stimulating your creativity, the course will give you state-of-the-art, technical skills by giving you the opportunity to practise your craft in our training kitchen."
Judicial Review - permission refused
If we can get the government to move by losing a legal case, I just wonder what we could achieve if we won a legal case.
Clearly the Judge was uncomfortable with what was such a hot potato. The issue remains, however, that there are things that the government can do that will cut postal vote fraud.
The ball is in their court.
DTI Rover and Administration
Various people (mainly those in the Labour Party) have tried to argue the case that the DTI did not push MG Rover (and Powertrain) into administration.
The linked article that has just been pointed out to me includes the following dated 4th April 2005.Five days to rescue Rover as Chinese blow cold on deal
By Michael Harrison Business Editor
Apr 4, 2005, 12:34
MG Rover, the only remaining British-owned volume car maker, will be forced to call in the receivers by the end of this week unless an emergency £100m loan is made available from the Government.
This was reported at midday on the Monday of that week.
Personally I feel this particular article substantiates the argument beyond reasonable doubt.
The result of articles such as this (for which the DTI have to accept responsibility for starting the Hares running) was that suppliers refused to provide supplies without cash up front. The company's cash, therefore, drained away in 2 days. See my earlier post for the rest of the matter.
List of Parliamentary Candidates for Birmingham City Council Electoral Area for General Election May 5th 2005
Nominations closed at 4pm.
|Dixon, Mike||Lib Dem|
|Evans, Jerry||Lib Dem|
Birmingham (Hall Green)
|Harmer, Roger||Lib Dem|
Birmingham (Hodge Hill)
|Begg, Azmat||Peace and Progress|
|Davies, Nicola||Lib Dem|
|Khan, Ayoub||Lib Dem|
|Moultley, Louise||Nationalise Rover - Socialist Alternative|
|Rodgers, Dick||Common Good|
|Sweeney, Francis||Workers Revolutionary Party|
|Sword, Trevor||Lib Dem|
Birmingham (Perry Barr)
|Hunt, Jon||Lib Dem|
Birmingham (Selly Oak)
|Brighton, Richard||Lib Dem|
Birmingham (Sparkbrook and Small Heath)
|Chaudhury, Abdul Qayyum||(ind)|
|Hussain, Talib||Lib Dem|
|Hemming, John||Lib Dem|
|Drury, Craig||Lib Dem|
Full Hearing on Thursday
It looks like the hearing on Thursday is the Full Hearing
not the permission stage. That is a good idea taking into account the timing issues.
For those who are interested. As far as Judicial Reviews go there are three stages:
- The "pre-action protocol". This started on 5th April, but was not responded to by the government.
- The permission stage, where a judge decides whether there is an arguable case
- The final hearing.
It appears (on the basis of phone calls I have just had) that we are now going for the full hearing on Thurday.
Further Comment (20/4): It turns out it is actually the Permission stage.
Lib dem plans to cut hidden waits in NHS
This research shows how the current simplistic targeting regime drives people into odd decisions.
It is a bit like the old rationing system in some services of "not answering the phone". By delaying diagnosis the time between diagnosis and treatment is reduced. However, we really need to be able to do "triage" and identify who needs very rapid treatment.
It is a good rational case as to how simplistic targets actually work against patient care.
Court Day Set for Thursday 21st April 2005
The Court Hearing day is now listed for the permission stage of the Judicial Review into the lawfulness of the election. That is for this Thursday. It does prevent me speaking at the Sustainable Buildings Conference and presenting Evidence to the Mobile Masts Scrutiny, but the Scrutiny Committee will meet on other days.
I would like to have also gone to the opening of the Birmingham W1 marketing office for the city in London W1, but that is on Wednesday and I am very busy in Birmingham at the moment. The appopriate Judge was not in on Weds hence the Thursday date.
I have not managed to speak to the Treasury Solicitors yet, but we need to stick to this date. If we can get permission that should act to discourage fraud. It is not impossible that we will get a formal undertaking from the government to act to enable evidence collation on the 2005 General Election.
Apart from this morning's campaigning in Yardley, I also spoke at public meetings in Tyseley and Saltley as well as doing an interview on the politics show.
This morning I played telephone tag with Respect. They are also judicially reviewing the general election using the same (originally my) solicitor Fatema Patwa.
Their JR is asking for too much from the judges. They are also a long way behind my case. However, I am hoping to get an early court hearing some time tomorrow (ie hear about it some time tomorrow).
The Politics Show looked at the issue of Rover. Sadly they don't seem to understand what is going on. The important and urgent issue is one of trying to rebuild a manufacturing operation there. That will facilitate getting people back into work and maintain the skills base.
Caroline Spelman (Tory Meriden) banged on about an indepentent investigation into MGR etc. Although I think she is right I do not think that is top priority. It will take some time to do things properly.
At both of the Inner City Public Meetings (Public Meetings are common in the inner cities) I found one of the best responses to our policies was on the Council Tax (apart from Iraq, of course).
We have unusually decided to hold back on issuing posters in Yardley. A reasonable display is going up in Sparkbrook (and Small Heath). Labour have a small smattering of poster sites in Yardley.
I am told also that there are at least 14 groups of people bidding for MG. One of the groups floating around is a sort of mixture between a Nigerian Scam (we have lots of money for you, all you have to do is give us 100K and we will give you 5bn) and some people who are "reality challenged".
The Twlight Zone in Social Care
One of the issues raised with me today related to a 16 year old boy whose family for various reasons cannot cope with him.
He falls into what I describe as the Twilight Zone of Social Care. Children under 16 are "children" and the system sort of copes with them. People of 18 or older are "adults" and the systems sort of handles this situation. People who are 16 and 17 end up in a twilight zone.
The saddest part of this case, however, is that the way the system works and the responses of the system are almost guaranteed to ensure that at some stage this particular individual will end up in prison.
There are so many problems that happen in the relationship between Social Care (aka Social Services) and society. Part of this arises from the breakdown in support structures. Part of this results from the pattern of behaviour encouraged by "the system".
What happens is that people who are on the periphery of society get used to blagging things. This involves a relatively aggressive demand that is responded to in such a manner as encourages this pattern of behaviour. Dysfunctional behaviour is, therefore, encouraged until the point at which the behaviour of the individual results in imprisonment. At this point, however, habits have been created that are very damaging.
One of the challenges for any government is to review in a wider sense the interface between individuals and "the system" to stop reinforcing aggressive behaviour patterns.
TUPE is the key
TUPE (The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations) is always a key issue in terms of any corporate rescue.
When a business is sold from one person to another then TUPE generally applies. This has the effect of transferring some liabilities from one organisation to another.
I have not been able as yet to clarify the position as to exactly which liabilities transfer through administration.
My understanding is that the liabilities for redundancy payments rest with the administrator if redundancies are made during administration. That is a reason why normally a lot of redundancies occur during administration.
There are press reports indicating that other liabilities transfer. This may mean that the only way forward that anyone will finance is to have completely new businesses set up and employ new staff (which are, of course, likely [but not guaranteed] to be people who were made redundant). It does appear that TUPE scuppered the SAIC possibility.
If the business is not bought as a "going concern" then TUPE does not apply.This press release from PWC
explains the situation.
It has been represented inaccurately in various places.
The key phrase is:"We have received a copy letter from SAIC early this morning which communicates to the DTi that they are not willing to acquire either the whole or part of the business on a going concern basis. "
In the press conference they also said they would not even work with a third party.
Although Intellectual Property Rights have been sold to SAIC they also need the people who know how to use the IPR. That also leaves an opportunity open.
Blair heads for Rover
He is not taking the chance of visiting Longbridge as far as I know. The announcement has been made of 5,000 redundancies. There is clearly a ripple effect that occurs for other organisations as well.
The big question for the weekend is whether it is possible to produce a stable smaller business making cars. If that can be done then there are more positive options for the future.
What is important is that the auctioneers are not just being brought into the plant.
MG Rover / Powertrain Class Action
One interesting aspect of the situation at MG Rover is that it is arguable that anyone made redundant would have a case for Negligence against the DTI ministers that caused the downfall of the company through their briefings.
One would presume that this case would be against the DTI as a ministry.
If we look at the basic financial loss.
Each worker has probably lost £20,000 or so in redundancy.
That for the 6,000 workers is £120,000,000
Then they have lost about £10,000 on their car loans.
That's another £120,000,000 because of the fact that there are 12,000 car loans.
Then you have the dealers and the supply chain.
All in all the DTI might have to fork out around £500,000,000.
Not a nice thing for the DTI to think about.
Court Hearing Set ... then unset
A court hearing was set in front of Mr Justice Collins in Court 2 of the Royal Courts of Justice for 2pm tomorrow. Then it wasn't. Much that the Government's solicitors were sent a letter before action last week and have had copies of all documentation they are not yet ready.
One option for them is to accept that we are right and that:
a) The General Election is unlawful
b) The Government should give a formal undertaking to implement the legal changes.
c) The Privy Council should put the changes through.
We see this as a positive situation. If Tony Blair's lawyers were ready then we would know that they have found a legal argument against our case.
"NHS Concern" raises Concern about NHS
I suppose the title is not surprising.
Birmingham NHS Concern are a lobby group that deals with matters relating to the NHS in Birmingham. They have written two public letters to the chair of the City Council's Health Scrutiny Committee and to the Strategic Health Authority (SHA).
The contents are important to anyone concerned about health matters.
LETTER 1 - BIRMINGHAM NHS CONCERN - Health O&S
Birmingham & Black Country SHA Strategic Framework ? A Wider View
Thank you for allowing Birmingham NHS Concern to participate in the Health
OSC meeting on 14th March.
I am enclosing a copy of our letter to Mr P Spilsbury of the Strategic
Health Authority, expressing our continuing concern about their plans.
It is worth emphasising our disappointment at the inability of the PCTs to
address the issue of recruitment of skilled health professionals in Primary
and Community Health to replace those staff who would be lost if 1405 acute
beds were to be lost. It continues to seem reasonable to us that the 40%
increase in funding for primary and community care by 2010 should be
reflected in a somewhat similar increase in staff. After all, if 1405
acute beds were lost, at least 4000 skilled professionals stand behind that
number of beds and their services would presumably be lost.
We understand the decision of your OSC to be that you will continue to
monitor the situation and in particular the PCT Local Delivery Plans
(LDPs), but would appreciate a copy of your minutes and to be placed on the
mailing list for future OSC papers.
We recommend and hope that your committee will request that staffing plans
be included in future PCT presentations.
We raised the issue of the government target of 15% of elective procedures
being carried out in the independent sector. We understand from press
reports that the government has dropped this ill considered policy.
Nevertheless, we hope that you will monitor the effects of the replacement
policy on existing NHS facilities, which we believe could well be
LETTER 2 - BIRMINGHAM NHS CONCERN - Letter to SHA
SHA Strategic Framework ? A Wider View
Thank you for your letter of 10th March, which our committee has
considered. We agree that we had an interesting and constructive
discussion on 22 February.
We think it necessary to record that you overstate our position somewhat in
the second paragraph on the second page of your letter, relating t possible
future bed cuts.
Whilst we note that Table 15 (p 61) is now described as "Summary of
scenarios for changes in general and acute hospital bed use", as opposed to
"Summary of capacity changes" in Table 18 of an earlier draft, the very
specific proposal for 1405 bed losses "20% reduction) remains in place.
We continue to be concerned about the extent to which primary and community
care can be improved by 40%.
Our concerns were unfortunately deepened by the PCT's presentations to
Birmingham City Council's OSC on 14 March. The formal presentations did
not include plans for the recruitment of skilled health professional staff,
such as GPs, district and practice nurses, physiotherapists, and the liked,
We also noted that the major presentations to the OSC were made by South
and Eastern Birmingham PCTs, but we believe that the greatest problems are
faced by Heart of Birmingham and Northern Birmingham PCTs. Their areas
incidentally also face the greatest difficulty in delivering existing acute
care. City Hospital currently faces a financial deficit and closure of
wards and Good Hope has had a troubled record for a number of years.
Of PCTs envisage a reduction of 20% in acute beds, an equivalent volume of
healthcare must be provided in primary and community care. Whilst IT and
drugs play a role in this, actual healthcare has to be delivered by health
professionals, just as acute care in hospitals is delivered by health
professionals using IT, drugs and all the equipment available. You and the
PCT representatives did not show how the PCTs can recruit sufficient staff
In relation to the 15% Independent Sector target for elective treatment, we
understand from press reports that the government has dropped this. We
note your responses to our questions 7, 8, and 9, and continue to have
doubts as to whether there are likely to be any patient and quality
improvements from expanding private sector provision, purely as a matter of
N463 sent to court
The application for urgent consideration has been faxed to the High Court. The following is the text of the explanation of why urgent consideration is required:
The date for the General Election has been set as 5th May. Postal vote fraud is likely to start about 2 weeks before that date unless measures are put in place to prevent it. The postal votes start being posted about 2 weeks before the election.
Although it may not be possible to implement the legislative changes requested in the remedies prior to the election if it is clear that two of them will come into operation after the election then they will act to discourage fraud.
The challenges in taking civil action through Election Petitions include:
a) There is only 21 days within which to decide whether to act or not.
b) It is not possible to check the application forms for postal votes until a court order has been obtained and a court order cannot be obtained until an election petition has been issued.
c) There are substantial costs for the losing side in an election petition.
This is a sort of Catch 22 situation where you cannot sensibly decide to initiate proceedings until you have evidence, but you cannot get evidence until you initiate proceedings.
Even if access to application forms for postal votes is given after the election if fraudsters know that they can be caught out they will not wish to indulge in major fraud (cf Birmingham, Bradford, Oldham, Woking, Reading etc etc etc).
To that extent the decision as to whether or not the law should be changed for reasons of compatibility should be taken (and as a consequence of media interest communicated) prior to the election.
It may be possible to use Privy Council procedures to make the changes prior to the election, but whichever remedy is implemented will make a substantial difference.
Plan B could be workers' co-op (Rover)
Managers and workers at MG Rover are drawing up plans to buy the crisis-hit car company in the event of a rescue bid from China collapsing. Annil Chandra, a 43-year-old project manager, said yesterday he had already won the support a group of West Midlands businessmen.
I am pleased that a group of local businessmen are happy to work with the workforce. Annil Chandra is spearheading the coordination of workers organising a possible "plan B" in the event that the Chinese do not wish to purchase MG Rover.
I do know some of the people working with Annil. It is important that some alternative is developed in the UK. If all of the eggs are in one basket and those particular eggs do not hatch then that will not be a good situation for the workforce at Longbridge.
At the end of the day it comes down to ensuring that there is a profitable business
in the UK which can come out of the problems which currently exist.
1,405 Hospital bed cuts planned locally
Part of this morning was spent with a group of patients at a doctor's surgery in Shard End. They shared my concern that there is a plan for a 20% cut in hospital beds in the Birmingham and Black Country area.
There is already a substantial constraint on operations controlled by the availability of beds. If the number of acute beds is further reduced this will add to problems.
Labour call for cover-up
Councillor Hugh Maccallion, Deputy Leader of the Labour Group, has strongly criticised the previous blog post.
He says his criticism is based upon me reporting information about a Named Officer.
Anyone reading the blog should note that I do not name anyone in a negative sense. The only people I name are those doing their job properly.
Clearly Labour wanted the whole thing to be hushed up. I am surprised because in this instance it looks like a mistake followed by an attempt at a cover-up. The mistake is not acceptable as it disenfranchises about 1,000 people, but the attempt at a cover-up is far worse.
(BTW for those who don't know their history (aka it seems to include Bob Piper)
"Deep Throat" was the name of the source for the information for Watergate.)
Deep Throat blows whistle from Elections Office
I thought nothing could surprise me. Oddly enough something did today. I was told by someone in the elections office that there had been "Envelope 4s" mislaid during the local elections and not counted. There was a plan to "get rid" of them, but one or more staff were unhappy about this and kept them.
Envelope 4s are the postal ballots taken to the polling station and collected by the presiding officer. There can be 1 ballot or 20 ballots in one envelope.
I was told that on the 4th Floor of the Elections Office in the Archive Room which is the second door on the right and has a yale lock that in the little room off the side high up there was a box with 200 Envelope 4s in it.
The political parties had a meeting with the police and the elections officials and we discussed aspects of the election procedure. I made the point that I wanted to have a facility whereby the elections office could be inspected. At the end of the meeting I explained I had received a detailed allegation and wished to check for evidence and that I didn't want anyone to be able to warn the elections office that I wanted to inspect it with the police.
We had a short meeting after the event in which the police seemed quite happy to look at the elections office, but the returning officer was quite resistant. After some discussion, however, it was agreed that the inspection would occur immediately.
I, therefore, went to the Elections Office with Mirza Ahmad and the head of the Fraud Squad (Dave Churchill).
Lo and behold there was an orange crate high up on a shelf.
When we took it down it was full of envelopes.
These envelopes contained other envelopes.
These envelopes were unopened postal ballots.
The crate was placed on a trolley and walked to the Council House
It was then put in the office of the returning officer.
This story has shot around the country amazingly rapidly and two members of staff in the Elections Office have been suspended.
We have to thank that member of the elections office who was sufficiently concerned about the process of elections being correct as to provide me with the detailed allegation.
The Returning Officer has issued a statement:"Following an oral allegation received this morning about uncounted votes,
I authorised the Council's chief legal officer and a police officer to
visit the elections office this morning. As a result of this visit,
certain evidence has been handed over to the police and I have started an
urgent investigation into the matter. In accordance with normal city
council internal procedures I have suspended two officers from duty as a
consequence of the allegations made. The suspensions are without prejudice
and I will be unable to comment further on this matter until the internal
investigations are complete."
Phew - Judicial Review now issued
The RCJ (Royal Courts of Justice) can be really picky. They decided that if I have a solicitor then I have to let the solicitor sign the claim form. I had signed the claim form. So we will have to formally appoint the solicitor later.
Still at least we now have the form in. We may end up with a retrospective change for some aspects, but if the declaration of incompatibility is made then we are making some progress.
My record as a student politician
The blogosphere in the persons of TalkPolitics
and Labour Councillor Bob Piper
seems quite agitated about my record as a student politician Bob says:"J.A.M. Hemming (the Max Clifford of self-publicity) was, according to Talk Politics, beaten in an election by a dog!
(Please refrain from tasteless comments about his Labour opponent in Yardley)."
There is a claim that this stimulated my awareness of election fraud. I don't think people should have to worry necessarily about their record as a student politician in the 1970s, but I don't see any particular issue in any event.
I studied Atomic, Nuclear and Theoretical Physics at Magdalen College, Oxford at which I had a scholarship in Natural Science (which meant I had £60 a year extra and a longer gown).
In 1978 I was elected as the Women's representative onto the JCR (Junior Common Room). That may sound a bit odd, but being as there were no women in the college at the time, there was noone to deal with "women's issues". In 1979 the first women were to be admitted to the college.
In 1979 I stood as Liberal Candidate for the Secretary of the Oxford University Students Union. I came fourth. First was Conservative, Second was Labour and third was the "Silly Party". It turned out at the count that the Silly Party candidate was the dog owned by the master of St Catherine's College. The dog, however, beat me fair and square without any electoral fraud. No paw prints were seen on any ballot papers. (We didn't have postal votes then).
In 1979 I was elected as the Policy Convenor of Magdalen College. This made me responsible for negotiations with the college and representing the student body at University level. I was also elected to the Joint Committee with Hebdomidal Council and through the academic side to the Joint Committee with the General Board. At one stage the college put up the rents by a massive amount. We then ran a rent strike in which a certain William Hague participated (he was in the year below me). Having threatened to expel 60% of the students and decided not to the college relented and reduced the rents.
In 1980 there was an alliance between some Liberal Democrats and some Labour people to defeat the Conservatives. A meeting was held which selected candidates. A different slate was nominated so I refused to have anything to do with such an anti-democratic group. I therefore stood as a "Mercian Nationalist" for the NUS delegation and Oxford University elected 3 Conservatives, 3 Progressives and 1 Mercian Nationalist with me getting the third largest number of votes and being elected 4th by STV. The Mercian Nationalist candidate beat all the fringe left groups and the Silly Party (the Silly Party offered an alliance).
Mercia, for those who don't know, is the region on the 880 boundaries which is pretty close to Government Office West Midlands boundaries. The epic poem Beowulf
contains the text: "But Hemming's kinsman hindered this.
referring to Offa. Showing that Offa's family name was Hemming.
Emperor Offa of Mercia, built Offa's dyke. (he was, however, not the same Offa as in the poem, but I think a descendent).
In 1980 also there was an election for OUSU president in which I was not a candidate and did not formally support either of the slates. (I actually supported one candidate off one slate (Centre Democrat) and one candidate off the other (Progressive)). At the count it was found that a lot of the ballot papers had been filled in the same way and it was concluded that the election had been stuffed.
I was later told that ballot papers had been swapped in the ballot boxes in the process of them being taken to the count. I was told who did that, but 26 years later it would be unfair to finger anyone.
Shanghai Automotive says it never mentioned buying MG Rover
This, from the Chinese Media, seems to be the nub of the current debate.
The plan from China was not that SAIC would buy MG Rover, but that there would be a joint venture.
The problem for the Chinese was the stability of MG Rover (because if you have a joint venture with someone who goes bust then you have the problem that either the joint venture goes under and you lost the funds invested or you have to support the other partner.
That is why a stable
partner is needed.
China Unlikely to Agree MG Rover Rescue
"LONDON (Reuters) - China's biggest carmaker said it was highly unlikely to agree a rescue deal for MG Rover, as administrators battled on Monday to find a buyer for the UK firm which is losing up to 25 million pounds ($47 million) a month. "
This is the key issue. Unless there is a stable
business (which has to be profitable) in the UK for the Chinese to have as a partner they won't want to deal.
"Sorry - the Lawyer is not in"
So, we finally get our 300 page bundle and claim form N461 to the Court. We have paid our Court Fees and they say:"Sorry you cannot sue the Prime Minister, you have to sue the Department for Constitutional Affairs and by the way you should tell us which statutory instruments you wish to change"
So we change the form and put in the SI references and are told:"Sorry we cannot check the form now the lawyer who deals with it has gone for a day"
C'est la vie.
We will return to fight another day.
Rover - its not the end of the road
It isn't the end of the road today for Rover as a Brand. The difficulties at Longbridge could spread across the country to dealers and suppliers, but it is possible to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
I am aware of two attempts to generate a rescue other than the government. One is where a business consortium (which is anonymous at the moment) is working with the workforce. There is a second approach which involves some of the second tier managers as part of an MBO.
Ideally both of these groups would work together. What went wrong last time was that the original deal which involved management, workforce and community changed and the management threw out the community and disenfranchised the workforce.
It would be a bad idea to simply do another Phoenix putting the company staight into the hands of management who start extracting money at the same rate as Phoenix did.
It would be possible to establish a rescue bid which involved all the stakeholders and most importantly did not give one group of stakeholders control. That is the key governance issue that will ensure that any rescue lasts.
Sadly it appears that the government do not understand the key business issues. I did a radio interview this morning with Jacqui Smith who clearly did not understand that the Chinese cannot operate a JV on their own.
Hemming Demands Cabinet Committee Minutes
I will be demanding a copy of the Cabinet Committee Minutes for April 20th 2004 relating to Postal Vote Fraud as part of his legal case against Tony Blair.
It is reported in the Sunday Times that Labour decided to allow postal vote fraud as the anti-fraud measures would have cut Labour support.
As part of my legal case I have a right under Article 6 (equality of arms) to the disclosure of the Cabinet Committee minutes. I challenge the government to formally deny the report in Today's Sunday Times.
Rover and Governance
A story from November 2003 which included:"Yesterday it emerged that members of the group of Birmingham business people who helped to kickstart a local bid for MG Rover in 2000 are considering legal action to force Phoenix to appoint independent directors.
John Hemming, a local businessman and the Liberal Democrat leader on Birmingham city council, said he was considering the action because he was concerned about the recent disclosures.
He said he had helped put together the original group of people from which the Phoenix four emerged to buy the company. He said: "I want an improvement in [corporate] governance. They need some independent scrutiny. They need it for themselves to get people's trust back."
Ministers ditched vital measures to stop voting fraud (to help Labour get more votes)
The Sunday Times have written an excellent article showing that Labour thought safeguards were needed, but didn't implement them for electoral benefit.
My barrister Jerry Hayes feels this is all grist to the mill for the election fraud JR.
He has now written the Skeleton Argument and with a bit of luck everything should go to court tomorrow.
This is his Skeleton Argument:
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
IN THE MATTER OF:
JOHN ALEXANDER MELVIN HEMMING
ANTHONY LYNTON BLAIR
CLAIMANT’S SKELETON ARGUMENT
IN RELATION TO ARTICLE 3 OF PROTOCOL NO. 1
OF THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
1. The regulations governing the conduct of the postal vote scheme for the General Election are contained within Part V of The Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 [S.I. 2001/0341], which came into force on 16th February 2001.
2. On 4th April 2005 at the Election Court in Birmingham, the Commissioner, deputy High Court Judge Richard Mawrey QC, made the following findings in his executive summary of his judgement:
(i) “The system for postal voting contains no effective safeguards and is an invitation to fraud”.
(ii) “Applications for postal votes can be sent to the Elections Office up to six days before polling day. If thousands of applications are sent in the final days the system can be overwhelmed. This happened in Birmingham in Birmingham in 2004”.
(iii) “The scheme for registering postal vote applications is hopelessly insecure. Although the application must by law, be signed by the voter in person, the Elections Office has no means of checking the validity of the signature or of the application. In any event, the Elections Office has neither the duty nor the resources to carry out any checks. If an application to vote bears something that looks like a signature, it must be accepted and the voter’s name must be put on the voter’s list”.
(iv) “An applicant for a postal vote can ask for the postal vote to be sent to an address other than that of the voter: obviously this gives assistance to fraud”.
(v) “Postal ballot packages are sent out by ordinary mail in clearly identifiable envelopes. Short of writing ‘STEAL ME’ on the envelopes, it is hard to see what more could be done to ensure their coming into the wrong hands”.
(vi) “The system whereby a postal ballot is ‘verified’ by a Declaration of Identity (DOI) is farcical”
(vii) “Anyone who gets his hands on an unused postal ballot package knows that he can fill it in exactly how he likes and the resulting ballot paper and DOI, if completed, will be (must be) accepted by the Elections Office”.
(viii) “The law is indifferent as to how the completed ballot package gets to the Election Office. It is quite lawful for someone to collect it from the voter and promise to deliver it to the Elections Office. It is quite lawful for someone to collect it from the voter and promise to deliver it to the Elections Office. Some political parties encourage their supporters to do this”.
(ix) “The Returning Officer operates (as she must) on the basis that, if a ballot paper clearly shows votes against candidates, she will accept it, even though it contains crossing out or other markings. Anyone who gets a completed postal ballot before it reaches the Elections Office can open the envelope, take the ballot paper, scribble on one lot of crosses and substitute another before sending it off to the Elections office. That ballot paper will none the less be accepted as valid”.
(x) “The system is wide open to fraud and any would be political fraudster knows that it has been wide pen to fraud”.
(xi) “Since 2001, the Electoral Commission, the Returning Officers and the Elections Officers have warned that the system has insufficient safeguards against fraud. Some parts of the media have repeatedly warned against fraud”.
(xii) “The Returning Officer has no policing function whatsoever. Returning Officers do nor have a duty to investigate fraud and most importantly, they do not have the powers to investigate fraud”.
(xiii) “In the course of preparing my judgement, my attention was drawn to what I am told is an official government statement about postal voting which I hope I quote correctly:
There are no proposals to change the rules governing election procedures for the next election, including those for postal voting. The systems already in place to deal with the allegations of electoral fraud are clearly working.
Anybody who has sat through the case I have just tries and listened to the evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace banana republic would find this statement surprising. To assert that ‘the systems already in place to deal with the allegations of electoral fraud are clearly working’ indicates a state not simply of complacency but of denial. The systems to deal with fraud are not working well. They are not working badly. The fact is that there are no systems to deal realistically with fraud and there never have been. Until there are, fraud will continue unabated”.
3. Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) provides:
“The High contracting parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature”.
4. It was held in Mathieu-Mohin v Belgium (1987) 10 EHRR 1, that Article 3 of Protocol 1 does give rise to an individual right and can be the object of a compliant.
5. It is conceded that the rights under Article 3 of Protocol 1 are not absolute and may be subject to limitation subject to the condition that any limitation of the aforesaid rights must be a proportionate response to a legitimate aim in ensuring that the election represents “the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature” [Mathieu-Mohin v Belgium (1987) 10 EHRR 1].
6. It is submitted that, if the primary aim of the rights contained within Article 3 of Protocol 1 is to ensure “the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature”, it must be a proper and legitimate aim of the State to ensure that elections are fair and free from fraud.
7. It is further submitted that laws which have the practical effect of disenfranchising groups of people may contravene Article 3 of Protocol 1. For example, an inadequate system of postal voting might prevent disabled or ill people from exercising their right to vote. In Lippiatt v Electoral Registration officer Penwith District Council (County Court 21 March 1996 unreported) where a person was homeless, but had access to a day centre to be used as his correspondence the court held that the officer was wrong to refuse his application to go on the electoral roll.
8. It is submitted that the current regulations governing postal voting are incompatible with the rights guaranteed under Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the ECHR:
(i) This will be the first General Election that has been fought under the new postal voting on demand regulations [S.I. 2001/0341] and already applications have tripled since the last General Election.
(ii) It is submitted that, in light of the findings of deputy High Court Judge Richard Mawrey QC, it is clear that the regulations governing postal voting [S.I. 2001/0341] is so potentially corrupt, so open to abuse and so lacking in any safeguards to prevent votes being in stolen that it will inevitably result in election fraud.
(iii) It is submitted that a system which effectively encourages election fraud is necessarily incompatible with the rights guaranteed by Article 3 of Protocol 1:
(a) Election fraud undermines the central aim of Article 3 of Protocol 1, which is to ensure that the elections reflect the genuine will of the people;
(b) Election fraud necessarily disenfranchises those whose votes have been “stolen” by those perpetrating the fraud (The electoral Court in Birmingham heard evidence from individuals who had attempted to vote only to be told that postal votes in their name had already been cast and so they could not cast their vote).
9. It is therefore submitted that the Court should compel the Defendant to ensure that the government introduces safeguards, by way of an Order in Council as set out in the application, to enable postal votes to reflect the free expression of the opinion of the people as soon as possible before the election on 5th May.
10. It is also submitted that the court declare that the regulations are also incompatible with Article 14 of the ECHR:
(i) Article 14 provides that “The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, natural or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”
(ii) Provisions have been put in place in respect of the election in Northern Ireland which provides for a complete and secure system of postal voting.
(iii) It is submitted that the fact that one part of the United Kingdom enjoys a secure voting system while the other parts amounts to discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights set forth in Article 3 of Protocol 1.
2 Paper Buildings
8th April 2005
General Election Mailshots
I have now been a candidate 6 times. Each time all the national pressure groups send out mailshots with their manifestos. This, of course, is the busiest time in the year so I have no time to read any of them and they go straight into the recycling.
I mentioned this to someone who worked for a pressure group once and they explained how much work (and trees) went into this each year. A complete and total waste of time. The only ones that get read are read by candidates that won't win because they are not working hard enough.
In the mean time sadly we are going to have to present the JR request in the RCJ (Royal Courts of Justice) on Monday. I was too busy to sort out all the details on Friday.
MG Rover - what is going on
This story is quite interesting. The quotation therein: " But car industry insiders said it would be almost impossible to find anyone else willing to take on the undisclosed debts of MG Rover which ultimately made the Chinese walk away from the deal."
shows a total misunderstanding of insolvency law.
What happened in the last 2 weeks really demonstrates the odd way in which government works.
MG Rover had for some time been working on a Joint Venture (JV) with the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC). This looked quite close to completion on numerous occasions and had generated some half finished new models of car.
In essence a loan from the government to the holding company of MG Rover (Phoenix Venture Holdings - PVH) of £100 Million had been needed to complete the deal.
SIAC would not complete the deal unless that loan was paid. On the other hand the government would not pay the loan unless SAIC signed up to the deal. We, therefore, had a bit of an impasse. (Good Old Catch 22) The government should have paid the loan because it had the assurance of £10 Million from the directors, but it clearly did not think like that and probably a bit of back protecting was going on.
On Friday 1st April 2005 at about 10pm there was a conference call between me, Mike Whitby (Conservative Leader Birmingham), Steven O Brien (Conservative DTI shadow), Malcolm Bruce (Lib Dem DTI Shadow) and Jacqui Smith (DTI Minister). This discussed the proposed loan as it was likely to have to be handled during the election period. All parties agreed that this would be a good idea on the condition that the Directors of PVH put up £10 Million of their own money as well.
Mike and I spoke after this and concluded that we should make no comment (although we had not been asked to do this which was a bit odd) given the sensitivity of the issue and not wanting to undermine the company. The next day, however, we read in the newspapers that the Government had briefed the papers about this.
This was quite surprising. For any company to trade requires confidence. If people do not have confidence in the company they will not give it credit. Revealing the existance of this loan confirms formally the financial instability of the company. It spends around £25 Million a week so £100 Million is not that much.
During the week the story grew and grew. The DTI were briefing newspapers about the problems with the negotiations with SAIC. Again this is an odd thing to do. Such negotiations need really to operate in confidence as press stories, which tend to vary in their accuracy, can rebound on the negotiations themselves in a form of negative feedback.
On the Tuesday Wagon a listed supplier issued a Stock Exchange statement that they were stopping supplying MG Rover. This is seen by some as being designed to bring MG Rover down. It is possible, however, that because they were listed they needed to do this. However, there are those that see this as very unusual.
The next day 27 other suppliers stopped supplying MG Rover. On the Thursday almost all production stopped. Most supply is on the basis of "JIT" Just In Time where no large stocks of components are held to minimise the working capital requirements.
In essence at this stage the company had no credit. That meant that it had to pay in cash (that it did not have) for supplies and it needed another £50 Million that it did not have. On the Thursday night, therefore, it was clear that the company was insolvent and to continue trading may be "wrongful trading" and that insolvency practitioners would need to be brought in to advise. This was reported by the DTI as the company bringing in the receivers. Personally I think this was more like a misunderstanding of law than any particular attempt to bring the company down. However, there are others who see this as a further attempt to bring the company down.
On the Friday there was an emergency board meeting and at 1.04pm the company was put into "administration".
"Administration" does not mean that a business is closed down. It means that the owning companies (in this instance MG Rover and Powertrain) are insolvent and no longer trading. All trading goes through a trust account run by an administrator. Only cash that has come in can be paid out.
Administration is particularly bad news for the staff. It is normal practise for redundancies to occur during administration. Those redundancies are only paid at statutory minmums by funds from the DTI rather than the normal terms. TUPE does apply, but as far as I know the pension liabilities do not come through TUPE. This means that whatever liabilities existed for the pension fund and any deficit rest with the insolvent company. The government's actions in pushing the company into administration by briefing about its problems will, therefore, have caused considerable numbers of redundancies, a cut in redundancy pay and a loss of pension rights.
I visited Longbridge to talk to people on Friday. It was clear that there was an obvious solution which is to get the company bought out of administration (which is where all the assets are bought by a completely new legal entity) and the deal with the Chinese was completed. It was also clear quite early in the day that there was some effort from the DTI to get this to happen or alternatively to get the Chinese to buy the assets.
I also spoke to Digby Jones who not only is Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, but was also born over Longbridge Post Office. He agreed with me that one or more transaction out of administration would be a sensible way forwards. He suggested that the "hostage had been shot", by the damage to the companies reputation in the last week so administration was less damaging to the company's reputation than would normally be the case.
There is a question, however, as to how competent the "Department of Timidity and Inaction" is. To do a deal whilst a company is in Administration it is crucial that it happens very quickly. Administration is normally something to be avoided as it really damages a company's reputation. However, the damage had already been done by the briefing of the DTI in the last week in any event.
I personally have little confidence in the ability of the DTI to deliver a new deal. I have, therefore, been discussing with people in the workforce and others in the community preparing an alternative "backstop" deal. This would be in place in the event that the Government and the DTI fail to deliver. If they fail there will not be time to produce an alternative bid so the work needs to be done simultaneously. Clearly we must not have competing bids, but having a backstop is sensible. If the Government then fail to come up trumps we can do something. The sum of money needed is in excess of the original DTI loan of £100 Million. It sounds, however, entirely reasonable that the DTI should still stump up the loan - something they are empowered to do by EU law. The DTI and in particular government ministers have pushed the company out of business through their briefings. This has resulted in a loss of pension rights and a loss of redundancy payments as well as resulting in a number (unknown as yet) of redundancies. They need to accept their responsibility and create some recompense for the local people.
Any deal should involve the community, the workforce and the management.
A busy day ahead
With a bit of luck Jerry Hayes will arrange for the presentation of the request for Judicial Review in the High Court today. We have worked out it is possible for the Queen to modify the law by an order in council. The Privy Council will sit during the election period which allows such changes to be made.
Today, however, I will be spending some time investigating options as to how to resolve the situation at MG Rover which has now spiralled out of control (mainly as a result of DTI briefings).
Election Campaign Starts
We have just had the first day of the election campaign proper. One of the differences about parliamentary elections is that the Royal Mail will deliver leaflets.
We have stuck stickers on thousands of leaflets with people's addresses (a technique to get more than one leaflet to each household) and this morning were sorting out the leaflets with the right number of elastic bands around them.
I find it odd that although we start out having the areas sorted by Polling District the Royal Mail ask us to resort them into the initial letter of the road name within first three characters of post code.
This means that we sort roads that are hundreds of yards apart together and separate roads which are next to each other. I can see them resorting them back to something close to the polling districts in which they are sorted.
It strikes me that someone writing the rules has not properly thought them through.
West Midlands Police are also being very helpful and I have lined up a meeting with them to explain how they can help in minimising fraud. I have suggested that parties give their office addresses to the police so that the police can turn up without notice and without a warrant and search the offices at any time (and have a cup of tea if they wish).
All sorts of nonsense is being reported about MG-Rover. This is really hard for the workers at Longbridge who are being put through the mill. It does not help the directors in resolving things. There are too many people who seem to have it in for MG-Rover. The fact is that many thousands of jobs depend upon Rover.
Full Council yesterday had an "end of term" feel to it although Labour were quite subdued through most of it.
Aston and Bordesley Judgment
I have tried to find this on the DCA website. I cannot easily do that so I have uploaded it to the savedemocracy email list files section. Anyone can now download the full judgment.
It is half a megabyte.
From the Judgment
- In this judgment I have set out at length what has clearly been shown to be the weakness of the current law relating to postal votes. As some parts of this judgment may be seen as critical of the Government, I wish to make it clear that the responsibility for the present unsatisfactory situation must be shared. All political parties welcomed and supported postal voting on demand. Until very recently, none has treated electoral fraud as representing a problem. Apart from the Electoral Commission, whose rôle I have described above, the only voices raised against the laxity of the system have been in the media, in particular The Times newspaper, and the tendency of politicians of all Parties has been to dismiss these warnings as scaremongering.
- In the course of preparing my judgment, my attention was drawn to what I am told is an official Government statement about postal voting which I hope I quote correctly:
There are no proposals to change the rules governing election procedures for the next election, including those for postal voting. The systems already in place to deal with the allegations of electoral fraud are clearly working.
- Anybody who has sat through the case I have just tried and listened to evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic would find this statement surprising. To assert that "The systems already in place to deal with the allegations of electoral fraud are clearly working" indicates a state not simply of complacency but of denial.
- The systems to deal with fraud are not working well. They are not working badly. The fact is that there are no systems to deal realistically with fraud and there never have been. Until there are, fraud will continue unabated.
Judicial Review of Prime Minister's Decision to Call Election without anti-fraud procedures
I have started the process (A letter before action sent to the Treasury Solicitors) of judicially reviewing the Prime Minister's decision to call a General Election without anti-fraud procedures.
The ECHR includes the following:ARTICLE 3 (of Protocol 1)
RIGHT TO FREE ELECTIONS
The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at
reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure
the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the
The absence of measures against fraud means that:"under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people"
Is not satisfied.
I have asked for the following four changes:
The first proposal is that a change is needed so that postal votes are counted separately to non-postal votes.
The second proposal is that the same access is given to parties to check application forms as exists for checking DoIs.
The third proposal is to extend the period for Election Petitions to 2 months from 21 days.
The fourth proposal is to require presiding officers to keep a list of voters who attend to vote in person and are found on the absent voters list and to allow them to submit a tendered ballot.
Further thoughts about postal vote fraud and the General Election
The first proposal I have put is that a change is needed so that postal votes are counted separately to non-postal votes.
The second proposal is that the same access is given to parties to check application forms as exists for checking DoIs.
The third proposal is to extend the period for Election Petitions to 2 months from 21 days.
The fourth proposal is to require presiding officers to keep a list of voters who attend to vote in person and are found on the absent voters list and to allow them to submit a tendered ballot.
This means that there is time to check the results for fraud. It still, of course, does not deal with "undue influence" and all the other issues.
All of these things can be done with a Statutory Instrument.
Labour "Suspends" Birmingham Labour Councillors found guilty of Vote Fraud
You can find the same element to this story in various locations including:
"The Labour party last night suspended the six councillors and sent officials to monitor elections in Birmingham."
Now ... what we have is Six Councillors found to have been involved in electoral fraud to the criminal burden of proof.
The criminal burden of proof is "Beyond reasonable doubt".
The Labour Party's immediate response is to "Suspend them".
Now I would accept that if merely allegations were raised that may be appropriate. However, we have had a High Court sitting for over a month going through the cases.
The question is "Where is the doubt?" On what basis do Labour expect to reinstate the councillors (now ex-councillors).
What is holding the Labour Party back from expelling the councillors?
Clearly they know which other Labour Councillors got elected through election fraud. As do I presume other members of the Labour Party.
It does seem that Labour are "standing by" their disgraced councillors.
Labour Deputy Leader "standing by" disgraced ex-councillors as they are interviewed on the steps of the BMI.
Statement on Election Court Result
Following the decision of the Commissioner to disqualify 6 Labour Councillors for Election Fraud John Hemming has issued the following statement:The Commissioner has made it clear that the current system is wide open to fraud. The Government can make a simple action through a Statutory Instrument so that we can identify where fraud affects the election results. This is to count the postal votes separately from the non-postal votes. That is not in any way a full solution, but it is a solution that could be implemented in time for the General Election. They must act.
The Labour Party in Birmingham have a further issue. These were not the only Labour Councillors elected as a result of fraud. There were others. What are Labour going to do about this?
We have shown in Birmingham that we are serious about acting against Election Fraud. We need the Government to show that they are serious as well. Postal vote Fraud has been reported in Birmingham, Sandwell, Woking, Guildford, Reading, Blackburn and Bradford in recent weeks. This is a national problem and needs a national solution.
The Pope and Rover
To me the most interesting aspect of the late Pope's Reign was the direct support of the Vatican for political change in Poland. I can understand and sympathise with, however, his lack of support for Communism and also pure self-interested materialistic capitalism. I haven't issued a statement myself. For the City Council that is done by the Lord Mayor and for the party that is done by Charles Kennedy.
I wish, however, that politicians would hold back from issuing unhelpful statements about the current situation at MG Rover. The future of MG Rover is important to Birmingham and the West Midlands and it does not help that people are continually trying to issue new public statements.
I know why the government "leaked" details of the proposals for a bridging loan. However, it would be better if the government had put the jobs of people in the West Midlands first rather than their own jobs.
Much of what is reported in the press is inaccurate, but a lot of it is unhelpful to the people dependent upon manufacturing in the West Midlands.
Oil price predicted to exceed $100 per barrel
Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am concerned about the lack of response from government to matters relating to the depletion of crude oil.
There are a number of websites and organisations which deal with matters relating to whether or not we should be concerned.www.hubbertpeak.com
is one of the useful websites. This is named after the US Geologist who correctly predicted (in 1956) that US production of Crude Oil would peak in 1971 (which it did).
The Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO)
is a useful source of information and they issue a regular newsletter via email (it is actually on a website, but they issue an email to tell you to download it).
In essence the argument is quite straightforward. Oil is something produced many thousands of years ago and stored underground. There is a finite amount of oil. Not all Oil in any particular aggregation can be extracted and gradually as more of the potential oil is extracted then it becomes harder. There gets to be a point at which the energy expended in extracting the oil is more than is obtained from the oil and, therefore, oil extraction logically ceases.
On an aggregate global basis one would expect oil fields to be depleted at different times. Overall, however, there will come a point at which oil production is at a maximum after that point it will reduce.
The argument is what is the year in which maximum production occurs. The real difficulty is there is no real way of being certain about that year until about 3-4 years afterwards. Much of the published information about crude oil reserves is unreliable particularly in the Middle East.
Hence there will come a year of "Peak Oil" production. There is an argument that for conventional crude Oil that may have been 2004. Notwithstanding that alternatively it could be any year in this decade.
After that point oil becomes scarce so the price goes up. In fact we then move from a situation in which oil is priced as a readily available commodity to one where it is priced on the basis of scarcity.
In a sense a good symptom to predict whether or not we have got close to peak oil is if the price starts spiking.
The cause of a spike can be for instance the closure of a refinery in Venezuela or the bombing of a pipeline in Iraq. However, the main reason for the spike being possible is an absence of spare capacity in the system.
The global production of oil runs around 70 Million Barrels of oil per day. The UK produces and consumes about 2.5 Million Barrels.
A bbl (Blue Barrel) is 42 US Gallons. The UK tends to quote oil quantities in Millions of Tonnes instead.
The ready availability of cheap oil does not just affect air flight (where there is no taxation on fuel) it also drives almost all other economic activity.
An important issue is the energy intensity of the Gross Domestic Product. In essence this calculation of joules per Pound implies that unless things get more energy efficient as we get reductions in energy availability (and hence use) we end up with recession.
The other important issue for the UK is that we are likely to cease being an energy net exporter in about 2007.
The first step for dealing with oil depletion is what is called the "Depletion Protocol" which is aimed to get countries to control their consumption. My own feeling is that market forces are more likely to control consumption initially. After a while a Depletion Protocol may be accepted, but I expect people to try to circumvent it.
Notwithstanding that it is worth reading the websites cited above.
My own view is that this particular issue will be a key underlying driver for political change over the coming decades.
Today is Council Tax Bombshell Day (and it's no April Fool)
April 1st 2005 is the date at which every property in England is to be revalued. This is to enable a Council Tax rebanding.
This sounds relatively anodyne given that in theory it is a "nil sum" operation. However, the experience from Wales is that there have been increases in the amount of tax people have to pay of up to 22% on top of inflation.
The only fair option is to "Axe the Tax"
and replace the Council Tax with an Income Levy paid with Income Tax (A Local Income Tax).
This would be administered by the Inland Revenue and collected together with the normal income tax bill. It would, therefore, be very cost effective to collect.
Most importantly it would be fair, being based upon people's ability to pay.