Tory Ministers blame “diversity” on declining civil service standards

Ex-MP Paul Goodman wrote an interesting piece on ConservativeHome today about his concerns over the civil service at Westminster and the alleged growing problems the government are having in dealing with them.

On the whole it’s pretty well-balanced, but one section in particular stuck out to me.

As Goodman outlines his three areas of concern and experience in dealing with the civil service, he comments on something that Conservative Ministers with experience of government allegedly all continually claim, namely the declining standards of the civil service.

This, it is claimed, can be blamed on,

Labour’s “diversity agenda” for the civil service…background or gender or ethnicity came to count for more than ability

So let’s get this straight, the reason there have been declining standards in the civil service is because Labour insisted that the civil service hire more working class people, more women and more black and asian or other ethnic minority people?

Because obviously there are no working class people, women or ethnic minorities who can possibly write letters in clear English, which is what Paul Goodman uses as an example of declining standards.

Are Tory Ministers really claiming that standards have declined because more women work in the civil service?

Do they look at a woman or someone with a regional accent and automatically believe they must have gotten there because of their gender or class and not on account of their own talents?

Have they taken a note of every poorly drafted letter and noted who wrote it, and checked to see if it was a woman, a black person, or something from the North of England?

How many Tory Ministers actually have previous experience of government? There can’t be many – Ken Clarke springs to mind. Who else has these ridiculous views?

The funny thing is these Ministers would never have the guts to say this publicly because they know the public would excoriate them, so instead they whisper it anonymously to journalists so they can drip feed their poison into the media without ever having to be held accountable for their views.

At Bradford Council we’ve announced we’re looking at ways we can tackle under-representation of ethnic minorities at a senior Council level. I’m confident we can do so without declining standards, even if anonymous Conservative Ministers would appear to disagree.

The article is about issues concerning the civil service, but it shows up the issues many people have with politicians too.

IDS and universal credit. “They lied to him.” Trouble with the civil service The Tory Diary.

Labour’s clumsy advances on Vince Cable risk making us look stupid

Are Labour really so clumsy as to openly court Vince Cable and pretend we’re privately best chums with him?

The way I see it this strategy has two broad aims:

  • Orientate the party for a potential post-2015 coalition with the Lib Dems, with Vince Cable as Leader.
  • Destabilise the coalition, increasing the likelihood of a collapse and snap election, in which Labour would emerge as the largest party.

The question really is whether such a strategy will work or whether we will end up with egg on our faces.

We know Cable has had his vanity stroked before, but he’s not that stupid, even if he was vain enough to mouth off about News International to a couple of young, female (undercover) reporters.

The public aren’t so stupid either, and can well see what we’re up to. It risks looking like indulging in childish student politics when there are such big issues that need tackling.

It feels like there is little to gain and instead we just look daft, after spending years slagging off the Lib Dems (with Ed’s insincere ‘I want to destroy them’ line as a clumsy (albeit effective, seemingly) pitch during the Labour leadership election) then suddenly we sincerely love Vince Cable and declare that we could work with him tomorrow, regardless of parliamentary arithmetic.

It’s like banging on about what a leader Charles Kennedy is to undermine current Lib Dem leaders. ‘Well, the problem with Nick Clegg is that he’s no Charlie Kennedy’, as if we really, really liked Charles Kennedy and secretly supported him. It might work to wind up Nick Clegg but it doesn’t really achieve much.

We didn’t secretly love Charles Kennedy, and while Vince Cable may say things that chime with a lot of Labour members and supporters he is still in a Coalition with the Tories and his party will not be holding back any punches when it comes to campaigning against us in an election.

Similarly, Lib Dem supporters aren’t that stupid either, and they’re not (all) secret Labour supporters. Seeing a couple of prominent Labour politicians suddenly act as if they’re best buddies with Vince Cable is not going to make Lib Dem supporters more likely to demand Nick Clegg’s head on a platter.

Surely the result will be the other way round and they’ll see what we’re up to (a plot so visible you can see it from the moon) and rally round Clegg instead. To many Lib Dems, Labour are just as bigger enemy as the Tories and we should be aware of that. Those who used to vote Lib Dem as a centre-left alternative have now left the party and have started to support Labour again. Those who remain are not secret Labour supporters yearning to break free.

While speculation about Cameron’s job grows daily, it’s understandable that Labour want to stir up the hornet’s nest a bit but it all has the feel of the silly season about it. Supposedly even Thatcher at the height of her powers had up to 100 Tory MPs who disliked her and wanted to get rid of her (I think I read this in Alan Clarke’s diaries, so take it for what you will).

Of course, some parts of the media will play along, like the Daily Mail, out of a general dislike for David Cameron, who they blame for not being Margaret Thatcher. So they’ll happily print stories designed to needle and destabilise him and it’s part of Labour’s job as the Opposition to provide these stories. I can understand that.

I’m all for a bit of mischief making but like when we stormed to a Greggs at the height of the Pasty Tax furore and pretended it was all a coincidence, can we at least try and show a bit of class and do it cleverly without making it blatantly obvious to all and sundry what we’re up to?

Maybe we’re enacting a clever bluff, to secure Clegg’s position and further our chances as the only ‘progressive’ vote in 2015 to better enable us to build a majority.

Nah, I don’t think so either.

UPDATE: Seems I might have overestimated some Lib Dems. Though in fairness I suppose you could argue Ming is angry at Vince for the sake of coalition unity so it’s not quite the same thing.

A new government and a new blog theme – my election round-up

So we have a new government, and as gutting as it is to see the Liberal Democrats team up with the Conservatives I’m appreciative that by doing so the Liberals have forced the Tories to drop the more regressive aspects of their manifesto and at least will temper (for now) the more right-wing instincts of the group.

I’ve been putting off writing this blog post for the last few days, not because I was too upset or anything, but simply because a) I’ve been desperate for a bit of time off from politics (which I’ve failed to do so far!), b) Events have moved at an extraordinary pace and I’d feel obliged to mention them and c) There is so much to say I wasn’t sure quite how to start.

Frankly better writers than me are discussing the national situation, needless to say I hoped for a ‘progressive coalition’ but saw the huge risks involved. My overriding fear is that the ‘safety’ of opposition could be more like 1979 where we ended up locked out of power for 18 years, during which time the social fabric of this country was rent asunder.

For that reason alone I favoured an attempt at an alliance, though I sympathise with the Lib Dems dilemma. A few more seats for both parties and it could have been different.

So, to Shipley, and a night of mixed results and emotions.

General Election

Certainly the national result didn’t go well. Our early samples suggested Philip Davies was heading for re-election with a majority of perhaps 7,000, and that was shocking enough. When the final numbers came through and he had a majority of around 10,000 we simply couldn’t believe it.

Our own vote didn’t hold up as well as we’d have liked, and on the surface it looks like several thousand people shifted directly from us to the Lib Dems, while Davies’ vote shot up presumably partly from a national swing and a swing for him personally. I read that turnout in Burley and Wharfedale alone was 81%, well above the average in Shipley and it looks like the ‘core vote’ for the Tories were what did it for us.

Superficially people are impressed that Davies responds to letters quickly and will always take up their case even when he disagrees with them, and to be honest it this is without doubt his best selling point and something he does very well indeed.

However, when we dug deeper we often found people struggling to think of anything he had done for Shipley himself. Chris Leslie – like him or not – was at least involved in the Bingley Relief Road, or Saltaire getting its World Heritage Status among numerous other things. Davies’ first term has been more characterised with him using Shipley as something of a soap-box to campaign on issues he feels are of the utmost importance, such as asking why it’s wrong to use the word ‘golliwog’, opposing the Minimum Wage and numerous other things I’ve detailed here before.

The more people know about this side of Philip Davies the more chance we have of beating him at the next General Election.

However, with the national situation being what it is that is going to do strange things to the Liberal Democrat vote, as Labour are now the only progressive centre-left alternative to the Tory government. It’s going to be more difficult, surely, for those who voted Liberal Democrat in Shipley out of a refusal to vote Tory (while being disaffected with Labour) to do so knowing it will still help bring about a Tory government.

That said I’m well aware that a socially liberal, moderate Liberal Conservative government could actually succeed, and this might make voting for either party more palatable. Labour has to renew in a way we didn’t think we would before the election. Everything has changed and if you think about how the Tories have essentially had to ‘lurch’ to the centre, it’s good for the country who will hopefully be protected from the worst instincts of the largely unreconstructed Conservative party.

Local Election

As for the local elections, the rough results were as follows (2008 scores in brackets):

Greens – 2300 (2200). Share of the vote -17% on 2008.

Tory – 2000 (1300). Share of the vote -0.5% on 2008.

Labour – 1800 (700). Share of the vote +16% on 2008.

Lib Dems 1000 (200!)

UKIP – 500

 Turnout – 73%

(Figures are approximates off the top of my head)

As you can see from the 2008 results actually, out of the three big parties in Shipley (Green, Tory and Labour) only we improved our share of the vote, and we did so significantly. Obviously the Libs did likewise but it’s fair to say this was entirely down to the national situation, and before anyone complains let me explain why. 

In the Shipley ward, the Liberal Democrats ran no campaign. The candidacy was basically what is known as a ‘paper candidacy’. This is where someone stands in an unwinnable seat so people who always vote for that party have the chance to do so; however the candidate stands with no intention of campaigning in the area. As far as I’m aware no one ever saw the Lib Dem candidate, knows who they were or received any literature.

Indeed for the Shipley Liberal Democrats as a whole most of the campaigners moved to Bradford East where they supported (successfully) David Ward in removing Labour’s Terry Rooney.

So there is no need to take into account local situations when looking at the Lib Dem vote, as there wasn’t one. 

In fact, on the day of the election itself only Labour seemed to be campaigning actively in Shipley. We saw no other parties having ‘tellers’ at the polling stations (Tellers take your polling card ID number and return it to our offices, where we work out how many of our supporters are voting), we saw no other parties when leafleting at Shipley station, town centre or outside ASDA, and when doing the rounds visiting all the polling stations I saw no other party members doing likewise, although I have heard that the Tories did go to one polling station at least. 

With that in mind, it was nice to see our share of the vote increase given all the hard work we’d put in over the year (and longer), but it was a shame not to pip the Tories to second place. It was also a bit galling to see the Green vote hold up so well given how little they campaigned in Shipley, at least on the day itself, where they admitted to me they spent the whole day campaigning in Heaton. 

Looking ahead to the next local elections in 2011, everything will pretty much depend on turnout. If it stays above 70% then either we or the Tories could easily take the seat, as we’d expect the Lib Dem votes to dissipate and the Green vote to stay roughly between 2200-2300. 

However, keeping turnout high when a general election is not taking place will be fiendishly difficult and as ever the winner will be the party that gets its core vote out on the day. The Greens’ great achievement has been to attract roughly the same number of votes regardless of turnout, which benefits them immensely if turnout is low. 

Overall it was an amazing experience, speaking to people on the door who say they’re going to vote for you, and working with other volunteers who are coming out to support you and sell you to voters on the door is a very inspiring and humbling experience so it was genuinely (as cheesy as it sounds) an honour and a privilege to stand for election in Shipley as a council candidate, and I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me or who spent any time volunteering for me (and our Parliamentary Candidate, Susan!) over the election period. 

Thank you. 

NB As mentioned in the title, I’ve changed the theme for the blog (the layout). I’ve been meaning to do it for ages as the original theme was supposed to have videos and pictures in one column, the blog in another and so on, but I never bothered learning the code to do this. I’ll keep tinkering with it over the next few weeks though, but let me know what you think of it.

NBNB As for the Labour leadership election, as strong a candidate as David Miliband is I hope his supporters try hold back from anointing him over the next few days and weeks. We need a proper contest where anyone can win, not one where someone is clearly chosen beforehand and no real debate is held.