Friday, 30 October 2009

There are crimes where "life imprisonment" should mean exactly that!

There are times when you watch TV and your blood boils. For me, one such instance occurred today with the news that two men convicted at Edinburgh High Court of the most heinous of paedophile offences may see the light of day as free men despite their headline sentence being "life imprisonment".

These two men have been found guilty of a string of child pornography and abuse crimes, including sexual assault of a three-month old baby. Neil Strachan is to serve a minimum 16-year term and James Rennie a minimum 13-year term before they are eligible to be considered for parole.

I thought long and hard about posting on this issue because it is no longer politically correct to talk about jailing people for life without the possibility of parole. I disagree and it is time we had an open and honest debate about the way sentencing policy in Scotland's courts is failing the test of public opinion.

For me, that our criminal justice system seems incapable of sentencing criminals to prison terms that enjoy public support suggests our legal system has not kept pace with the changing world in which we live. There are some crimes and some criminals for whom life imprisonment should mean they never see the light of day as free men or women again.

Police killers, some murderers, serial rapists and paedophiles capable of this sort of systematic abuse of defenceless children should all know that there crimes could enable Judges to pass down life imprisonment terms that mean they will spend the rest of their lives in jail.

I concede this will not stop the most determined criminal from committing these crimes but it will serve as a deterrent to some and as a guarantee to the rest of our society that once caught the most serious of criminal will never be free to hurt them, their families and their friends, again.

The prosecutors of Strachan and Rennie are to be commended for having successfully convicted these beasts but it beggars belief that they are quoted as saying the "severity" of the sentences would "act as a warning to others" when I believe most ordinary Scots would have hoped they would have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the prospect of parole.

So let's have an open, honest and constructive debate about the failings of our criminal justice system, sentencing policy and when life imprisonment should mean convicts never walk our streets again. In a mature democracy this should be something we do as a matter of course but in today's Britain I fear the human rights of the criminal will be put ahead of those of the victim.

I for one am not prepared to allow this to go unchallenged and I know, from my experience of listening to local people on the doorsteps of East Renfrewshire, so many people feel the same.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Labour led East Renfrewshire Council administration miss yet another opportunity to do right by local residents

Having just spent 3 hours attending the Full Council meeting of East Renfrewshire Council, I find myself struggling to find an appropriate form of words to describe just how little the Labour led administration of our Council understands the world we live in and the problems their constituents face.

One issue in particular clearly demonstrates their disconnect with reality and I write about it in the hope that making this information as widely accessible as possible will embarrass the Council into reconsidering its position.

Independent Councillor for Netherlee, Stamperland and Williamwood, Ralph Robertson, proposed a motion tonight that would in effect have changed Council policy relating to the right of residents to protect their property by permitting them to gate lanes adjacent to their property where these lanes are being used by those intent on disrupting the lives of local people. The right of everyone to live without the fear of preventable anti-social behaviour is fundamental to our belief system and democracy and yet in East Renfrewshire your privacy is no longer sacrosanct as far as our Council is concerned.

For some time Stamperland has been blighted by youth disorder, with lanes used by ferrule youths as a place to drink or as a place in which they can avoid police - as they traverse quickly between streets using lanes as a short cut.

In proposing his motion Councillor Robertson provided evidence of Councils supporting their local communities across the UK by allowing residents to protect their property, privacy and safety by erecting gates to private lanes. From Liverpool to Glasgow, Ralph provided detail case studies on the success of gating lanes as a measure to tackle anti-social behaviour. In all every case the result of erecting gates has been immediate success in stopping anti-social behaviour simply by making problem lanes inaccessible.

Seconding the motion, Conservative Councillor Gordon McCaskill talked about the right of residents to privacy and pointed to a recent High Court judgement that everyone has a right to privacy in their own home regardless of any requirement of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act.

What then followed dismayed everyone in the public gallery and remains nothing short of a disgrace.

In proposing an amendment to the motion, which basically supported the Council's current policy, Councillor Eddie Phillips asserted the current policy relates back to a time of Conservative governance. As the Stamperland gate issue only became an issue in 2002/03 and relates to the Land Reform Act which came into effect in 2001 I am struggling to understand whether he believes it was the last Conservative administration of Eastwood District Council in 1995 or the last Conservative government at Westminster in 1997 that is to blame for the current failed and discredited policy? This is quite simply nonsense and a simple attempt to politicise an issue that should be beyond Party politics.

Then in a sensational contribution by Councillor Montague, who is supposed to represent the Stamperland area, she described anti-social behaviour in the area as "perceived" instead of "real".

A more out of touch and insensitive statement you could not make up!

Councillor Montague reeled off a host of statistics to try and suggest that there is no youth disorder issue in the Stamperland area only to find that moments later Leader of the Council, Councillor Jim Fletcher, spoke specifically about additional policing resource having been deployed into Stamperland over the summer to tackle anti-social behaviour - a reference I believe to the much publicised deployment of mounted police on Stamperland streets as well as a regular dog branch presence.

After all was said and done, Councillors votes 8 for Councillor Robertson's motion and 12 for the administration's amendment. This makes a mockery of the Council's motto "Working For You".

Truth be told East Renfrewshire Council's administration only care about their political pet projects.

Later in the meeting the administration's Councillors voted through plans to move ahead with a College while admitting they have not undertaken any research among local unemployed or young people as to whether they would attend a College in Barrhead - despite this being their specific target demographic.

In committing the best part of £9 million of Council Tax money when no economic case for this expenditure has not been proven the Council demonstrate once again they have no empathy with their electorate.

When everyone else is eliminating all nonessential expenditure, East Renfrewshire Council are prepared to gamble £9 million of your money on a project that may or may not prove to be of value. By the time any College is designed and built the current economic downturn will have passed and there is no guarantee places will be filled as employment prospects improve for those leaving school. Equally the demographics of East Renfrewshire suggest there will be fewer young people seeking college places in five years time and then again five years later. None of this was disputed by the administration tonight and yet all twelve members of the administration voted to move forward with this project when they could have postponed their decision by one month to allow research on local demand to take place - as suggested by Conservative Group Leader, Councillor Jim Swift.

I want to see a safe and prosperous East Renfrewshire. For that reason I intend to continue to champion the right of Stamperland residents to erect gates to their own private property and to support the principle of an East Renfrewshire College if, and only if, the Council can prove there is a demand for it among the people who are being asked to pay for it. This seems to me to be a logical position to take - it is only a shame it is a mirror image position to that of Labour led East Renfrewshire Council.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The BNP must be beaten by honest debate!

The unedifying sight of the BNP's Nick Griffin sitting on a public platform with serious politicians is both distressing and yet another result of the deteriorating relationship between politicians and the general public.

It sickened me to see Mr. Griffin sitting on the BBC's Question Time panel yesterday, but given that nearly one million British citizens voted for his Party at the recent European Elections the BBC probably had little option.

Before yesterday's programme I listened to all the arguments for and against allowing Mr. Griffin onto Question Time. Of all the contributors to the debate I was particularly struck by that of one self confessed anti-facist BNP hater who called in to a lively Radio 5 Live phone-in. I paraphrase his words but essentially he concluded:- We have laws in this country as to which organisations are prescribed and outlawed and the BNP does not fall into this category. We have laws in this country as to what it is illegal to say and Mr. Griffin is careful not to fall foul of them no matter what we might think he actually believes. The BNP now has two Members of the European Parliament, which is an identical number to the Green Party and they are regularly allowed onto Question Time and a host of other national broadcast media forum.

As distasteful as the facts are, this summary as to the evidence before the BBC as it made its decision to allow Mr. Griffin the oxygen of publicity afforded to him through an invitation to appear on Question Time speaks for itself and the BBC were left with little alternative.

From listening to this debate, and my own involvement with the good people of Britain, I have concluded that if our mainstream political party politicians are any good they should be able to take Mr. Griffin and his fascist party activists head on in debate. My good friend Baroness Warsi did this very eloquently last night and gave Mr. Griffin a metaphorical hiding, as far as I am concerned. She did this by being straight forward and honest in her answers, never ducking an awkward question and never doubting that her political principles would see her alright.

Baroness Warsi on her recent visit to Mearns Castle Golf Academy

In contrast Jack Straw tried to squirm his way out of a question put to him by a Mr. Lisle who asked, 'Can the recent successes of the BNP be explained by the misguided immigration policies of the Government?'.

Having tried at first to avoid an answer David Dimbleby pressed him on the issue only to find Mr. Straw keen to hold to a Party line that there has been no failure in immigration policy over the past 12 years - a line even Lib Dem contributor Chris Huhne derided as nonsensical.

24 hours on you cannot escape the fallout from yesterday's events. Every news channel is covering Mr. Griffin's complaints of having been treated unfairly (largely because he lost all the arguments) and every newspaper has its own take on the events of the day.

Elaine is an avid Daily Mail reader and pointed me to an analysis piece written by Max Hastings which I feel pretty much sums up the events of the day and the context in which political parties, including my own, should view the task ahead of us in defeating the racist bigots of the BNP. Tackle the public perception of the immigration issue successfully and you cut off the BNP's raison d'etre. Do this and you expose the BNP as simply a bunch of racists with nothing to offer the people of Britain.

Baroness Warsi was entirely right to tell Jack Straw he was "in denial" about this issue and as a British Muslim woman she was at least honest enough to tell the audience "we have to go out and say to these people - who have voted for the BNP - we are prepared to listen. We (the Conservatives) are prepared to deal with this. We need a cap on the numbers."

Good on you Sayeeda. Only honesty will restore public faith in politicians and you demonstrated this in abundance last night.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Day 4 -

Up early to get to the Conference Hall in order to participate in the "Great Britain" debate. Having asked a question from the platform it was time to do a quick interview for ITN and then off to say a few goodbyes in advance of the Leaders speech.

(watch my question at from 44 minutes 50 seconds)

Such was the enthusiasm and anticipation of David's speech that queues for the afternoon session started forming from 11am for a scheduled 2pm start.

A few kind Scottish gentlemen who came down to Manchester to lobby Conference had managed to get near the front of the queue and very kindly let Peter Lyburn and I nicked in near the front - only for us to be sat in the Conservative Future section when we finally got into the hall.

For me the speech I heard today from David Cameron was every bit a speech from a Prime Minister in waiting but more importantly a speech that clearly defined the man, his principles and the type of country he wants to fashion under a Conservative government.

Three things stood out for me starting with David putting our armed forces at the very beginning of his speech in committing our Party to giving them all the equipment and support they need. Whether you agree with the military action the current government has committed our troops to or not the one thing we all agree on is that it is a scandal they are not properly equipped to protect themselves and those they are being asked to fight for.

The next memorable moment was David's reference to his family year and to his wife in particular. The things politicians partners have to put up with are above and beyond any call of duty and we don't thank them enough. Our partners don't choose a public life but they put up with calls to the house at ungodly hours and us simply disappearing at a moments notice when someone asks for our help. I must admit to shedding a tear as David described the painful year his family had experienced before paying paid tribute to Samantha.

And I think the most memorable passage of his speech was the one that dealt with the scandal of those left in poverty by Labour's complicated systems. That a young mum working part time, trying to earn something extra for her family, pays 96 pence in every pound in tax and benefit reductions is simply scandalous. In Gordon Brown’s Britain if you’re a single mother with two kids earning £150 a week the withdrawal of benefits and the additional taxes mean that for every extra pound you earn, you keep just 4 pence. What kind of incentive is that? As David said, "Thirty years ago this party won an election fighting against 98 per cent tax rates on the richest. Today I want us to show even more anger about 96 per cent tax rates on the poorest."

Today I heard a speech from a man ready and able to be my next Prime Minister. The Conference slogan was "Ready for Change" and David Cameron is both ready and capable of proving our country with the change we so desperately need!

(watch David Cameron's full Conference speech at

Monday, 12 October 2009

Day 3 - making a difference!

(apologies for the delay in posting this article, which was due to technical difficulties)
Missed the entire morning of Conference to accompany Annabel Goldie MSP and David Mundell MP to the Conservative Social Action project.

Social Action is at the heart of the modern Conservative Party and for me defines what it is we offer Britain at a time of great social and economic uncertainty. By involving ourselves in projects that are at the heart of our local communities and which deliver tangible benefits to local people we demonstrate the true nature of conservatism in the 21st century. Having travelled to Bosnia earlier this year to participate in one of our international Social Action Projects it was good to get stuck into a project closer to home and which clearly meant so much to the children who looked on as their Club was transformed.

This year's project was renovating Radcliffe Girls and Boys Club. This small Club sits at the heart of a community with its fair share of difficulties. Through its events it offers a community resource that pulls the local community together and although it can't be described as modern it is much loved and valued by those who use it.

After a morning of painting fascia board (filmed by BBC Scotland when I wasn't exactly looking too gainly) and tidying up grounds it was time to hop into a taxi back to the Conference secure zone for meetings with a variety of lobbyists and environmental groups. Having been coated in paint the smell of turpentine certainly makes you stand out in a crowd of people hoping they are preparing for Government.

Of particular interest is the sheer number of people lobbying on sustainable energy solutions - highlighting once again the threat to Scotland that the lights might start to go out unless we take immediate action. It is also good to hear from our international, blue chip companies who want to play their part in a cleaner, more sustainable planet by evolving their business model to ensure optimum levels of recycling and energy recovery.

By mid-afternoon I become acutely aware that while everyone else is in suits I am in my jeans and social action t-shirt - sticking out like a sore thumb. The Scottish Chairman's wife very kindly proclaimed it made me look more human than the assembled throng but it was time to nip back to the Premier Inn for a shower and change into a suit - very kindly no mention of the odd smell from Mary.

On the eve of David Cameron's speech, to what will be the final Conference before a General Election where we hope he will be elected Prime Minister, it is hardly surprising the main topic of conversation is what we will hear from him tomorrow. What will it include? How will he play it? Should he take risks? All subjects discussed at length while David and his core team prepare for a day of vital importance to the fortunes of both the Conservative Party but probably more importantly our country!

But sometimes it all becomes a bit much (even for the most dedicated of Conference goer) and time to take a break from the Conference village. So I join Peter Lyburn, Hamira Khan, Marilyn Orcharton and a select group of others nipping out of the secure zone and down Manchester's "Curry Mile" to the self-proclaimed world famous Sanam Restaurant. Wonderful food to match the company and then back to the Conference Hotel to attend a Candidates Reception before an early bed having been asked to speak in the "Great Britain" debate that opens Conference tomorrow.

There really is a genuine excitement about tomorrow's leaders speech. Britain needs a leader to take it from its broken state to one of optimism and confidence and I am in no doubt David will show tomorrow that he is that man!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Day 2 - Being straight with the British people

Lots of good events at the Conference fringe but only one thing being discussed in the bars - George Osborne's speech.

We all know our nations finances are in a mess thanks to a reckless Labour government and that radical measures are required to bring our budget into balance and to build a better Britain for future generations. The problem is how to communicate this to an electorate already feeling the pain of Labour's recession and yet to feel the even greater pain of their massive public debt.

George was at pains to remain serious throughout and to stress "we are all in this together". Just how bad things are we can only begin to guess, so his speech was a finely balanced attempt to be honest with the public about just how difficult the choices made by a Conservative government would be.

The following are examples of specific savings that should be made in addition to the tens of billions of pounds of efficiency savings and productivity improvements that the Conservatives would deliver throughout the public sector over the next Parliament in order to reduce waste, deliver more for less, and protect front line public services.

The measures would save more than £7 billion a year in government spending by the end of the next Parliament, or more than £23 billion over the Parliament. These savings come on top of the longer term savings from raising the State Pension Age.

These measures could all be implemented without harming front line public services, and show how the burden of dealing with Labour’s debt crisis should be shared fairly while protecting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

Reduce the cost of government without harming front line services:

· The Government should recommend no headline increase in pay for all public sector workers in 2011, except for the lowest paid one million who should be protected. Military personnel on active service overseas should be more than compensated by doubling the Operational Allowance to an average of £4,800 for a six month tour of duty. Altogether this would reduce government spending by £3.2 billion a year from 2011 onwards, or more than £12 billion over the next Parliament. These savings are equivalent to protecting more than 100,000 public sector jobs.

· The Government should set out plans to reduce the administrative costs of Whitehall bureaucracy and Quangos by at least one third. This would reduce government spending by £3 billion a year by the end of the next Parliament, or by more than £7 billion over the Parliament.

· The Government should find ways to cap the biggest government pensions, including those for senior civil servants, local council executives and Quango managers. This cap should prevent any taxpayer-funded increase in senior government pensions already worth over £50,000 a year, and stop all taxpayer-funded pensions for these groups in future exceeding £50,000 a year. This would reduce the growth of public sector pension liabilities by hundreds of millions of pounds over the next decade.

Concentrate benefit spending on the poorest and most vulnerable:

· The Government should stop new spending on Child Trust Funds for better off families. Disabled children and the poorest one third of families should continue to receive both new Child Trust Funds at birth and top-up payments. This would save £300 million a year or £1.5 billion over the next Parliament.

· The Government should stop paying tax credits to households with incomes over £50,000 by starting to means-test the Family Element of the Child Tax Credit at a lower threshold. This would save £400 million a year or £2.0 billion over the next Parliament.

· The Government should cut benefits by up to £25 a week for anyone currently receiving Incapacity Benefit who fails a new work test and is therefore entitled only to Jobseekers Allowance. This would save more than £1 billion over the next Parliament, of which £600 million should be used to help get the unemployed back into work.

Ensure that the burden is shared fairly:

· The new 50p tax rate and associated changes to the taxation of higher earners should be kept in place for at least as long as the public sector pay freeze, in order to ensure that the richest in our society pay their fair share of the burden of tackling Labour’s debt crisis.

· We hope the new international rules on bankers’ bonuses work – that is the best solution. But if we find the money that should be going into stronger bank balance sheets is being unreasonably diverted into bigger pay and bonuses, we reserve the right to take further action and that includes using the tax system. We believe in the free market not a free ride.

Tackle the pensions time bomb while ensuring a decent standard of living in old age:

· The Government should announce an updated review of the state pension age, as recommended by Adair Turner’s Pension Commission. Given the state of the public finances and rapidly changing demographic projections, the review should consider whether the increase in the pension age from 65 to 66 should be brought forward from 2026, but starting no earlier than 2016 for men and 2020 for women.

· This should be combined with a renewed commitment to re-link the state pension to earnings growth in the next Parliament in order to ensure a decent standard of living for all in retirement, halt the spread of means-testing and restore incentives to save.

· According to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, every year by which the pension age is increased reduces government borrowing by about two thirds of a per cent of GDP. Once the pension age for both men and women increases by a year there will be a saving of around £13 billion a year.

So, no matter how good a time you have catching up with old friends and sharing ideas with new colleagues you can't help thinking about the problems that lie ahead for our country. Serious times demand serious men and women ready to make serious decisions and today I think we saw George Osborne is ready to be one of them.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Day 1 - Setting an agenda for change

After a late night at the Conference hotel it was an early rise to get to the conference venue. Manchester, like Birmingham last year, offers a very different conference experience to that the Conservative Party has been used to in Bournemouth and Blackpool over decades - some good and some not so good.

The venues themselves are far better, more open and an all round more comfortable experience. The down side is that a number of our best volunteers are deterred from coming to conference at city centre venues by the extortionate cost of hotel rooms - many costing twice as much this week as they did last week or next.

Our conference agenda yesterday was altered so that David Cameron and his team could promote new policies. They did so in a collegiate form with George Osborne, Ken Clarke, Michael Gove, David Willetts and Baroness Warsi all taking to the stage in an extraordinary example of teamwork.

So what did David Cameron say?

He outlined plans for a massive programme to "Get Britain Working".

If you were to summarise this programme you would simply say David Cameron's plan is to simplify Labour’s numerous and piecemeal programmes into one single back-to-work programme for everyone on out of work benefits.

The Work Programme will include support back into work for the 2.6 million people claiming Incapacity Benefits currently excluded by Labour. David confirmed we will abolish the Treasury’s rule that prevents the Government paying work providers using the benefits saved once someone has a job. This will allow us to offer support to the 2.6 million people on Incapacity Benefit.

We will offer greater support to the young unemployed by referring them on to the Work Programme after 6 months of unemployment compared to a year under the Flexible New Deal.
Under this scheme we will pay providers by results with a focus on truly sustainable outcomes and bigger rewards for getting the hardest to help into a job.

And our plans do not stop there:

David Cameron confirmed that 50,000 work pairing places, on average, each year for young people, who will be assigned to sole traders for six months of meaningful work experience and mentoring would be created by Conservative policy.

Then there are the 100,000 additional apprenticeships and training places each year, as well as the 50,000 additional training places at FE colleges each year that are being created for next year.

Finally there is the distressing news of Gary's death. Expansion of the government’s Young Apprenticeship (YA) scheme, from the current 10,000 to over 30,000 each year.

David Cameron said the measures were essential to tackle the problem of two and a half million people unemployed, with one in five young people unable to find a job, and he added: "Labour are now the party of unemployment, I want the new Conservative Party to be the party of jobs and opportunity and at the heart of it is a big, bold and radical scheme to get millions of people back to work."

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Ready for Change!

I am writing this on a train to Manchester in eager anticipation of a Conservative Party Conference that I hope will have a real vibrancy.

For months I have been canvassing doorsteps and have been asked "when will Conservative policy be announced?". People have understood the need to ensure policy announcements are relevant to the timing of a General Election and I have been telling them I believed this coming conference would see the beginning of policies being rolled out in advance of a General Election.

So I am delighted to see Annabel Goldie has announced two new policies for Scotland today, just as David Cameron and his team have released details of plans to get Britain back to work, by enabling millions on welfare to access training, as well as announcing plans to open luxurious grace and favour residences – currently lying empty or little-used – to charities and voluntary groups to support good causes. This follows hard on the heels of Andrew Lansley announcement of a scheme that would end the scandal of forced house sales to pay for care - offering elderly people across England & Wales an escape from Labour's forced sale crisis.

Annabel's announcements today include measures to support NHS workers who have the courage to Whistleblow and a demand in our budget negotiations with the SNP Scottish Executive that they create a Business Dividend Fund in order to turn Scotland into a real Enterprise country.

All these policy announcements, for Scotland and the rest of the UK, demonstrate very clearly that it is the Conservative Party who are in touch with the priorities of the public and who have practical solutions that will deliver real benefits to those most in need.

I am going to blog every day this week with my Conference Diary and reflections on policy announcements and hope this help inform those who want to know what a David Cameron led Conservative Government will mean for them and their families.

After all, people are "ready for change" and need to have faith they are voting for it. Constituencies like East Renfrewshire, which is a straight Labour -v- Conservative contest, offer people an opportunity to "vote for change" and that is what I hope to be able to encourage you to do!