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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The problem with Europe...

There has been plenty of talk about Mandelson and potential conflicts of interest with regards to his dealings with Deripaska.

But this is only in the press because he's been bought back into UK politics and because of the Osborne story. If neither of those had happened, we'd never know that he was makes with someone who just happened to do quite well out of a decision that Mandelson made.

Begs the question...how many similar things happen in Europe that we never hear about?

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


I wouldn't really say I'm gullible (I'm sure that there are some that will disagree)...but I think I got swept along a bit when I read the business case for the single unitary authority.

I specifically bought into the idea that said we'd save cash by not having duplication between the district councils.

This is true, but what it doesn't mention is that we actually establish duplication in County functions that have now be split between East and West.

As an example, one directorate present has 6 senior managers. In Cheshire East we're going to have 4 from next year. I assume West may do the same. That means there'll be 8 people doing the job that 6 people used to do.

A lot of the things that the borough council does turn out not to be duplicated, because we will still need the same number of bin men, teachers and librarians.

So it's clear that the promised efficiencies are going to be difficult to come by and easily balanced out by extra staff for disaggregated county functions.

What really gets the old bean working is this: assuming we do manage to make significant financial savings in the new council, how much of these could have already been realised in the old two tier structure without going through all this faff?

...hearing rumours.

Someone's recently suggested to me that Tesco own some of the land that MBC are hoping to use for the town centre redevelopment.

If anyone's got any more details about this - can they give me a shout please?

Monday, 27 October 2008

Time for the chop

Can't stand Russell Brand. Can only just tolerate Jonathon Ross.

They're both overrated, and I wasn't too happy before all this kicked off that my license fee was paying their wages.

After the recent occurrences, I'm furious.

Come on BBC, time to give 'em the sack.

Cheshire East response to the Manchester Congestion Charge

Many may be outraged, as I am, that the question for the Manchester congestion charge referendum has been drafted as:

"Do you agree with the Transport Innovation Fund proposals?"

Evidently they hope that if they don't mention the charge that people may not notice.

Cheshire East have now made a response to Manchester with regards to the charge:
That Greater Manchester Transport Innovation Fund be informed
that the proposals are unacceptable to Cheshire East Council on
the grounds that:

• This consultation exercise has again been largely targeted
within the Manchester Boundary. In particular, it is
unsatisfactory that efforts have not been made to fully
engage with residents and business in the wider Manchester
travel to work area on the scale used within Manchester
itself. There is further concern that the planned referendum
will only apply to Greater Manchester residents.

• There has been a complete lack of serious analysis and
identification of transport improvements beyond the Greater
Manchester boundary. The promoters have not acted to
engage with the Cheshire Councils to consider cross
boundary schemes that would be beneficial to residents and
businesses and provide an alternative to paying the
congestion charge.

• If the TIF proposals are to deliver the full economic potential
that is suggested, then they will need to extend and improve
connectivity to labour markets and businesses outside
Manchester. However, the planned measures do not
address what improvements would be necessary for those
areas beyond Greater Manchester including Cheshire East.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Coming soon?

We all know that Mandelson was bought in to co-ordinate Labour's general election campaign. The red party have suddenly realised they're going to have to call one soon and seemed a bit at sea without a strategy.

Now this Osbourne story doesn't really have any legs. As he never accepted a donation he's not done anything wrong. Fan it all you can, and it'll smoke and smoke without ever catching fire.

But the times is going really hard on Osbourne which either mean he's upset someone personally, or they're getting support from other quarters. My suspicion is that Mandelson is behind the briefing and this is the first in a series of short-term negative attacks over the next few months - with the intention to level the polls sufficiently to call a snap election very early next year.

Labour have learnt to their cost in the past that negative campaigning doesn't work, but with the position that they're in at the moment it seems to be the only technique they have left.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Can't make an omlette...

More roadworks for Macclesfield:

Work begins in Macclesfield on Monday October 27 on the second phase of the major scheme to upgrade traffic lights in and around the town centre. This work is expected to last for about five months with a break in works over the Christmas period between November 21st and January 12th. Phase one is due to finish at the end of this month and the whole project aims to reduce traffic congestion by linking and co-ordinating the traffic signal controlled junctions and pedestrian crossings.

Before Christmas, lengths of ducting for CCTV will be installed at the Hibel Road and Silk Road roundabout. Sainsbury’s are also paying for a new pedestrian crossing on Westminster Road.

After New Year work will be taking place mainly in the Churchill Way area replacing existing traffic signals and laying ducting along the adjacent side roads and between installations.

Once operational the Urban Traffic Control (UTC) system will link signal controlled junctions and pedestrian crossings. These can then be monitored and co-ordinated by the County Council’s UTC operators and by the Safer Communities Partnership operators of Macclesfield Borough Council. Testing of the system will take place in the spring.

Like phase one, work will be undertaken simultaneously in multiple locations and drivers will be advised by advance road signs.

More information can be obtained from the County Council’s Highways Service on 01244 977479 and the website www.cheshire.gov.uk/roads also has regular roadwork information updates.
I'm still not convinced that our traffic control centre should be based in a different county, as it will be after vesting day next year, but that's the choice we've made.

Monday, 20 October 2008

To lead or to follow?

Sometimes when you're canvassing, and you ask a resident if there's anything you can help them with, you get the response "If you want to be the Councillor, why don't you tell me what the problems are?"

I can see the point. There's an un-attributed quote which says something along the lines of "There go my people, I must find out where they are heading so I can lead them!"

But democracy is about a combination of following and leading, and it's not always clear what the best route is - and for that you need to listen to people.

Today has included one of those unclear choices.

Tonight at full council we voted to keep a mayor for Macclesfield. The plans were disappointingly unclear, in that the area covered by the new mayor has not been specified (but is unlikely to be the same as present) - and also that the expense of this appointment has not been calculated.

I have been told, dismissively, that it will "not be expensive". I assume from arrangements elsewhere that there will be an office, an assistant, possibly a car with driver and an allowance for the individual concerned. It's difficult to see how the bill to the taxpayer is going to be that much less than £100k a year. All of which will be met solely by the tax payers for the area concerned - which is likely to be the urban "town" area of Macclesfield.

This same town area of Macclesfield, in my opinion, would really benefit from having 3 extra coppers - which we could get for similar money. At the rates Poynton pay we could have just under 10 PCSO's. These would have been useful a few nights ago when my neighbours fence was destroyed by a group of lads - could the Mayor have helped with that?

However there is quite a romance about having a mayor - and Macclesfield has had one since the thirteenth centuary. The position can do a lot to lead the community, and foster a sense of belonging. It helps keep Macclesfield on the map.

Car Parking in Congleton

I'm about to shoot off to the council meeting in Congleton where I can park for free in most car parks in town.

It's not a special Councillor perk - most parking in Congleton is free to anyone.

But I've noticed something interesting in the minutes of the "Places" panel. A sub committee has been formed which will be looking into "Harmonisation of existing arrangements" with regards to parking.

Unfortunately, I can't see this working out well for Congleton....

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Couldn't help but wonder...

...after I read this rant from Barlow:
Going anywhere nice?" asked the check out girl.

I was longing for the customer to say, "No, we fancied a change this year. My husband’s found us a corrugated shack on a sewage farm in Bulgaria right next to a gas works."

if he's been following me?

Because we did go to Bulgaria a couple of weeks back, and we did pass a sewage farm next to a gas works. Although admittedly we were on a train, and we weren't staying there.

But still it begs the question....how did Barlow know what my plans were? Has he got a direct connection into the Passport Agency? Does he know when I've left the country?

I feel I could burst into a rant about the database state and ID cards here, but I think I'll leave that for another day.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Incident Alerts

There is an interesting new service available from Cheshire Fire and Rescue service.

You can enter your postcode and mobile number onto their website (www.cheshirefire.gov.uk) and you will then receive messages if their respond to a major emergency near your work or home. You can enter up to three seperate postcodes.

It's free to use...although the cost will ultimatly be coming out of your Council Tax.

I wonder how much this has actually cost, and is it really worth the money?

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Macclesfield Express Offices

It seems that the MEN group is closing offices in Wilmslow, and the front desk of the Macc Express in Macclesfield.

This is a serious disappointment.

This is a paper which has complained about the decline of Macclesfield Town Centre - and it's now pulling out of there itself.

On one hand I'll be slightly annoyed if we don't see photos of the closed up express in the paper - just like we've seen the bate hall and the three pigeons complex.

However, I know a lot of the staff that work at the paper and I know that this wouldn't be what they want. The editor is a true local champion and I would imagine that he has had to make a serious compromise between commercial rocks and his personal hardplace values.

It's just a shame that one of our last bastions of localism is steadily dripping away.

Perhaps we should for a Macclesfield co-operative and buy it out?

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Visitng schools

Two in one day - quite a record for me.

I visited Broken Cross this morning which was a very enjoyable visit. I got shown around by two year 6 members of the school council, who were excellent guides.

After meeting a few constituents around lunchtime to discuss a problem they had, I went onto Ivy Bank school. We are planning for an open day in December to show potential parents around the school. It promises to be an exciting day for all involved!

After a quick 3k run I'm just settling down to get on with the "work" work - as I've got to pay the bills somehow.

It's been a busy day!

Ignorant Councillors

One of the best things about going away on holiday is coming back to a pile to papers to plough through.

Ok...that's a lie. It's probably the worst thing.

But I do enjoy a pile of new quotes from Macclesfield's uber-opportunist Cllr Ainsley Arnold.

Normally he's always got good advice about what the council did wrong after the event - hoping that no one notices that he was one of the few people who could have spoken up about the problem in advance.

But he was truly stumped a couple of weeks back. When the 'Express questioned him about drug problems is Macclesfield, he replied:
"I was suprised that Macclesfield had such an inherent drug problem"
Oh my...

Honestly, really, truthfully....did it never occur to you? Have you never asked the coppers covering your ward about it? Do you never discuss it with your residents?

Welcome to the world of proactive Councillors.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


So the infamous lines are now down, and they're a bit more subtle than I thought they would be.

They will certainly fulfill the requirement to get the turning cars further to the right, but I'm not convinced that it'll encourage them to move far enough forward.

Will it work? Only time will tell.


Yes, yes. I know it's boring. And I know it's less important that feeding the starving (as my wife keeps telling me).

But I really really want the lines on that junction.

The latest gossip from my man on the inside is:
The works were programmed to be done the week commencing 22nd of September but because the clerk of works went off sick for several days that week with the complicated nature of some of the other lining works which were programmed to be done that day they were delayed.

When I spoke to the clerk of works last Friday he informed me that the lining crew and the machine to remove white lines was programmed for Tuesday 7 October-and as you will be aware it rained virtually all day and lining works cannot be carried out in the wet although we did succeed in having white lines removed at several locations because that operation is not whether dependent.

Therefore I have again chased up the clerk of work and he has assured me that the works are programmed for early next week hopefully Monday or Tuesday but again that is weather dependent.
Hmmm....we'll wait and see. It didn't rain yesterday, and there's no lines - so I'm not that hopeful.

Must really investigate if painting them on myself is going to get me a criminal record.

UPDATE: Just been out for a run and they're up there. Going out to a meeting now, so I'm hoping it'll be done.

Beacon Award

It's interesting to note that last year Birmingham City Council won a Beacon award for increasing service delivery through the third sector. In terms of local authorities, Beacon awards are definitely the thing to have.

I hope that this next time next year it will be Cheshire East council who have been awarded this honour - in recognition of the fact that when we built a new council we put third sector working at the heart of it.

I was boring a friend about this on Friday night and he suggested we need a new name. He thinks that the "3rd Sector" is neither an intuitive, informative or exciting term. He's got a point, but I can't think of what else you could call it, consider the large number of types or organizations it includes.

Ideas on a postcard...

Monday, 13 October 2008

Charity Carwash

I'm told that Macclesfield Red Watch, who ran the charity carwash a couple of weeks back, managed to raise £670 for the Fire Fighters Charity.

Not bad going - well done lads.

Petrol Prices

Everyone seems to be getting upset about local petrol prices at the moment, which I find a bit perplexing. Unless we want to advocate centrally fixed price control (otherwise known as socialist planning) then we have to allow people to charge what they want.

This includes charging more for fuel in Macc if you want to, it includes charging more at a motorway service station, and it includes that idiot who tried to charge £10 a litre when the pumps were running dry.

Just don't use the station if you don't like their prices - simple as that.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

We need a champion

I am concerned that the West already have a 3rd sector assembly, and we're lagging behind them on this. I hope we can catch up soon.

But it's become clear that we need much better understanding in the council itself of what the 3rd Sector is, what it can deliver and how we can fully integrate it with our decision making and commissioning process. Without this the 3rd sector will just become a tumour stuck on the side of the council, and not a gold thread woven through it.

So I have written to Wesley to request that we appoint a member of the Cabinet as a 3rd Sector "Champion" to....you know....champion the 3rd sector.

This way we can ensure that we give consideration to the 3rd sector each time we make a strategy decision.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Benefits of the Congestion Charge for Cheshire

So, after ringing the information line and getting help navigating the website (I don't usually struggle with these things, but there you go), I discovered that GM Future Transport have a document about the congestion charge and "What it means for Cheshire".

I should be noted that whilst I didn't find the website that easy to navigate, it is exceptionally pretty.

I was quite enthralled by this doc at first. I'd assumed that they'd forgotten to think about us at all. After all, we're not really being consulted (a stand outside Tesco's doesn't really count) and we don't get to vote on the plans - even though the recent case for creating East Cheshire council highlighted how reliant we are on Manchester for many elements of our economy.

So I was well chuffed that they'd put some thought into how if effects Cheshire.

Except they hadn't.

Most of the doc is general guff about the charge, and then a tiny "Cheshire" section highlights that there will be park & rides, and a few extra carriages on trains. It also has the delightful paragraph:
"The TIF Package cannot provide answers to all of the region's transport needs"
Lets not beat about the bush. The TIF package doesn't provide any answers to this part of the regions transport needs (ie, East Cheshire into Manchester).

Think about what we have on a scale like this:

1. Useless -> 2. Inconvenient but just usable -> 3. Convenient but unpleasant -> 4. Perfect

Rough, I know. But work with me.

They're trying to take us from 3 to 4 by ensuring everyone gets a seat - mainly because when you say to someone "Should we ensure there are always seats on the train" people will say yes. I mean, who wouldn't?!

But what we have at the moment is somewhere hovering between 1 and 2.

We don't need bigger trains, we need ones at times that are useful and mean we don't have to leave the pub in Manchester before last orders. We need buses that don't take three hours to cover the distance I can drive in 30 minutes. We need to be able to get somewhere near the metrolink extension where we can easily jump on (I assume we won't be able to Park and Ride at Manchester Airport).

The major problem at the moment is that we can't get anywhere except rail to the centre of Manchester, and we're severly limited by the timings etc of that. Unless you can provide this alternative, driving is the only option and the congestion charge just becomes a compulsory tax.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Watching the Bloggers at conference

I attended a fringe event at the conference on the subject of blogging.

The panel was made up of Guido, Dale, Dizzy, Devils Kitchen and Nadine Dorries who talked about various aspects of blogging. It turned out to be not quite as feisty a fringe as was promised, but I guess it was a little too early for Guido to shine. I'm not even sure the bar was open.

Did raised a few points that really interested me. The first was that there seemed to be a general opinion that blogging can be more useful for local politicians than for national ones. I'd agree with this and I think it's a shame that there's not more Councillors trying to disseminate information in this way.

Nadine suggested that the idea of her blogging was not popular with the whips office. I found this greatly disappointing. I know that it is important for a party to control message as tightly as it can, but it's bonkers to try and prevent blogging incase you say something you're not supposed to. She's no more likely to say something she should as if she was out canvassing or being interviewed on the telly. In fact - probably less likely to as you can carefully prepare material before you post it.

Lastly there was the concept of success, and what makes a blog successful. It's very easy to compare blogs to Dale et al. and believe that's the kind of thing you're trying to create, but it's not. A blog could be as simple as trying to connect with 5 decision or policy makers. It could be about providing information for the media. In my case, it's about trying to connect with the voters in the ward.

Which is why I'm so pleased with this blog. In the first month I had 100 unique viewers. Nothing in comparison to guidos >20k, but excellent in terms of what I'm trying to do.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Getting it wrong

Contrary to popular belief, I'm more than happy to put my hand up when I've got it wrong - and I got it wrong a couple of weeks back. I was incorrect when I suggested that Maxonians would have to pay to enter Manchester in the evening if the congestion charge came into effect.

This is because I assumed, on the basis of how the technology works and what is sensible, that you would get charged for driving within the zone - just like you do in London.

But this is not the case. You will get charged for crossing into the zone boundary in the morning, and out of the zone boundary in the evening.

So for us it's great, but for everyone who lives in Manchester it's bonkers. Completely bonkers. It's the most crackpot system I've ever heard of.

As long as all residents fully understand the system that is being proposed then I have no doubt the referendum will be a resounding no. Because it's crackers.

Did I mention it was a bit daft?

It means that if you live within the zone, you don't get charged to drive within it. If you drive through the boundary at 6.59am, you can drive all day in the city and you don't get charged. If you park your car just over the boundary the night before (which if you live a mile or so from it you will do), you don't get charged.

Can you imagine what those residential streets which are just inside the zone are going to look like at night? There are so many ways to avoid it which will result in behaviour which is irritating for residents.

But what's really Bonkers is that if you drive somewhere that means you have to cross the boundary more than once (because you're trying to navigate somewhere on the outskirts) then you'll pay every time you cross.

Although they are considering a "maximum charge per day for multiple crossings" and a day pass - which is kind of them.

Eating leftovers

I've always poured scorn on those that complain they don't eat properly because they can't afford to.

It's codswallop. Meat may be pricey but veggies aren't - and unless you try and have steak for dinner every night it's exceedingly easy to make a good meal for pennies. Cut down on the amount of meat you use, and pick the economic cuts. Reuse everything that you can, and you'll be surprised at how far your money goes.

A few of my friends use to laugh at me for my roast chicken antics. We often roast one on a Sunday, have cold meat Monday, make a huge curry on Tuesday, have a pasta based soup on Wednesday and leftovers of the curry on Thursday.

These days I've got a few of them converted and they've had to find something else to laugh at me for (which isn't difficult).

Some I'm pleased to see that Cheshire CC are pushing this line in their latest newsletter. It's all along the lines of recycling and reducing waste - but gives good menu ideas to eat more economically.

Jamie would be proud.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Ronnies Rants

I'm told that Ronnie is the chap that owns Ronnie's bar in Dukes Court. He has a post on his website titled "Masterplan is a Disasterplan" which you simply must read.

It's so good. It's definitely a rant and holds amusement value for that reason, but it's also completely on the money. Duke's court is a nice place to be, it seems criminal to wreck that in the name of supposed progress.

If you decorate a modern house then it seems fair game to slap a bit of paint on the walls and fill it full of veneered wood from Ikea. However, if your house is a Georgian delight with tall windows, a grand front door and an original fireplace then you make the most of these features.

I believe our town centre is the same. We've plenty to work with - we just need to tidy it up and make it all work together a bit better. The potential for a historic Macclesfield is huge - we don't need to create a plastic high street.

We shouldn't be thinking Trafford centre, we should be thinking Buxton and Bakewell.

I went into detail this time last month about why I thought filling all these new shops will be a problem. Ronnie takes this a step further, saying that we'll end up with all the shops moving from one street to another - leaving Mill lane empty.

I've never met this chap, but I intend to in the near future. Be an excuse to grab a quick beer if nothing else.

Monday, 6 October 2008

mini-fisking Cameron

From Cameron's conference speech:
But freedom can too easily turn into the idea that we all have the right to do whatever we want, regardless of the effect on others. That is libertarian, not Conservative - and it is certainly not me.
I have always considered myself a libertarian, and still do. Whilst I accept that the true definition of libertarian is argued about, I believe Cameron has his definition wrong here.

The one rule that I believe is fundamental to libertarianism is that you should be left alone by the state as long as you extend this grace to others. If you don't interfere with anyone else, then you shouldn't expect anyone else to mess around with you. For Cameroon to snatch this founding rule away from libertarians is naughty - although I can understand his wish to distance himself from the "freedom anarchists" who actually have nothing to do with freedom at all, just anarchy.

This rule is quite useful at understanding where to draw the line in state policy, and I reference it daily. It means, on the whole, that people should not be prevented from certain actions but should be punished if the results of these actions impact others.

In theory this is a perfect and fair approach to legislation....only problem is that the world isn't perfect. There are many situations where we would all agree to scrap this rule.

Take drink driving as a perfect example. No one in their right mind would suggest it should be legal to drive drunk UNLESS you crash into someone else. It wouldn't work, mainly because due consideration to the potential consequences are not considered before the action takes place. This means that a wider programme of legislation, enforcement and making the practice socially unacceptable is a far more successful route in saving lives.

So the golden rule isn't so much golden as bronze - but it's worth using nonetheless. Just with a bit of caution, that's all.

But if you think libertarian is a confused term, don't even get me started on socialist. If most people understood the type of governance system they were voting for when they ticked a red box then we'd get 99.9% of the vote every time.

Listening to Gossip

The noise on the grapevine is that we've got the cash for the Toddlers play area sorted - this has made my day.

Just awaiting dotting of I's and crossing of T's before it's all finally announced, but hopefully we can push ahead and get this ready by spring.

I'm seriously optimistic now about taking big strides forward with the Playing Fields too - although evidently we're going to need a little more cash for this one.


Friday, 3 October 2008

Dishonest debate

The great Wheatsheaf debate, as reported in the Macc Express brings up a couple of issues.

Firstly, the line being pushed about £250,000 for a new logo is dishonest. They know it is, but they like the way it sounds. This money is to replace everything that says "Cheshire County Council" or "Macclesfield Borough Council" with "Cheshire East Council". The fact that the logo is also changing is irrelevant. We can't send out next years council tax bills on stationary headed "MBC" - it would be illegal.

If we didn't want to incur this cost, then we shouldn't have made the move to unitary. The logo doesn't have a single thing to do with it at all.

Then we've got Cllr Brendan Murphy:
I think it’s a bit ironic that it’s wheatsheaf because I’ve never seen wheatsheaf in the country for years, let alone in Cheshire, and it’s collapsing backwards into the past.
Eh? So we should never use historical emblems?!

Parliament need to scrap that Portcullis, 'cause I don't recall seeing one on the way into either house.

But it's all a bit of fun. We know that the truth is that it's Brendan's politics that collapse backwards into the past. Every comment I've seen from him in the last 4 years is negative. It's a shame, because at one time I respected him as a member of the community who offered real hope and alternative from the mainstream decisions.

I think the logo, selected by the good denizens of Cheshire East is a blend of historical roots and modern design. I'm already proud of it.


Got a cold - either from Conference or from the plane back from holiday - so I'm feeling a little sorry for myself. Will be finishing a post I wrote a conference in a minute and then hopefully normal service will be resumed on Monday.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

At Conference

Wow....quite a few days. It was my first conference and I definitely made the most of it.

Having been in Greece for a wedding last week, we landed at Gatwick on Sunday lunchtime. Promptly picked up the mutt from the parents and then endured the 4 hours drive back to Macc, getting home about 7pm. I then packed, did a few bits of work, and got to bed ASAP.

All this in order that I could rise at 5am to start the journey down to Birmingham, desperate to make the most out of the conference. Going to the breakfast fringe events did seem like a good idea, and I stuck with the plan for all three days. But being at conference for over 12 hours every day did turn out to be just a little bit tiring - especially as I had a cold as well.

My first event was about air-freighting food which seemed like it would be quite straightforwad - although it did turn into a bit of a free for all about climate change. Aside from this, some really interesting points were raised especially from left leaning nutters claiming that we shouldn't buy produce from developing countries because we don't pay them a fair wage. I disagree with this - because if we're paying them more than they can get elsewhere then it's fair to them, even if it doesn't seem fair to us. It's all relative.

The fact that the fellar from greenpeace can offer the concept that by not dealing with these countries would help them terrifies me: I thought that everyone knew that free, fair trade is how entities (people, cities, countries) get themselves out of poverty for good.

The Economy sessions in the main hall were excellent - really in line with my view of the problems we now face and the reasons that have caused them. It was interesting to contrast this with the city of london fringe in the evening which seemed to be much more sympathetic towards bankers.

The plans for a new voucher based school system were very intriguing. I'll stop short of saying I'm excited because I need to research and understand more about how the system will work. I have examined first hand the problems caused by part-competition and part-parental choice we have in the present system and it's poor. We either need full parental choice or none at all, the system we have at the moment will generate endless painful TLC style reviews which are no fun for anyone

Welfare reform ideas were thoroughly exciting. This is an area in the past where any attempt at reform has left us open to attacks for being the "nasty" party. I think Chris Grayling made the case well, saying that the state will be there to support you but we expect you to pull your weight if you can.

Nearly didn't make it into Cameron's speech. I knew that I'd have to queue, but the queue was filling up about 2 and a half hours in advance whilst I was still thinking hard in a fringe session. I'll have to forgo that next year to get a better seat which seems like a shame. Surely those who work hardest should get the best seats, not those that work less?! ;-)