EU Budget: How did British MEPs vote?

Posted on March 15, 2013

The EU Budget negotiations have not run as smoothly as in previous years. In the past, the process was simple: everyone sits down, agrees to pay more cash to Brussels then off for champagne and canapes.

Then David Cameron shook things up a bit, pressing for an EU budget cut given the austerity member states are implementing. He secured an agreement with the other national leaders – which should have gone further, but was still an improvement on what went before.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted against the proposal. It wasn’t the final vote, but it was intended as a blocking measure to force the collected national governments to rethink their decision. The fact that various federalists in the Parliament tried to make the ballot secret – a scandalous attempt to avoid public scrutiny – shows that they know how unpopular that step is.

You would be hard-pressed in Britain to find anyone who thinks that while we are trying to save money at home, we should be paying even more to wasteful, undemocratic EU institutions. So how did British MEPs vote in our name?

Voted for the budget cut

Conservatives: Marta Andreasen, Richard Ashworth, Robert Atkins, Philip Bradbourn, Martin Callanan, Giles Chichester, Nirj Deva, Vicky Ford, Jacqueline Foster, Ashley Fox, Julie Girling, Daniel Hannan, Malcolm Harbour, Syed Kamall, Sajjad Karim, Timothy Kirkhope, Emma McClarkin, Anthea McIntyre, Jim Nicholson, Struan Stevenson, Robert Sturdy, Kay Swinburne, Charles Tannock, Geoffrey van Orden and Marina Yannakoudakis.

Labour: Michael Cashman, Mary Honeyball, David Martin, Linda McAvan, Arlene McCarthy, Brian Simpson, Catherine Stihler, and Glenis Wilmott

DUP: Diane Dodds

Ex-BNP: Andrew Brons

Voted against the budget cut

Liberal Democrats: Catherine Bearder, Philip Bennion, Chris Davies, Andrew Duff, Fiona Hall, Sarah Ludford, Edward McMillan-Scott, Rebecca Taylor and Graham Watson

UKIP: Stuart Agnew, Gerard Batten, Godfrey Bloom, Derek Clark, Nigel Farage, Roger Helmer and Mike Nattrass

Labour: Claude Moraes, Peter Skinner

Greens: Jean Lambert and Keith Taylor

Plaid Cymru: Jill Evans

BNP: Nick Griffin

So there we have it. I imagine that the Lib Dems are going to have some explaining to do, voting against the deal that their own party supported in Westminster.

As for UKIP, they are trying to rationalise away voting against a measure to save British taxpayers’ money by explaining that they want there to be no EU budget at all. That’s fine, but it isn’t a justification for voting for a bigger, more expensive Brussels right now.

As a Tory source points out, if UKIP vote this way in the final budget ballot then they may well be lining up with federalists to deliver an EU budget that grows every year…probably not the story they want to tell back home.

David “Mystic Meg” Tredinnick MP to judge Science and Technology

Posted on January 31, 2013

Back in 2009, at the height of the MPs’ expenses scandal, there were plenty of hilarious, infuriating and odd examples of politicians wasting taxpayers’ money. Some have become immortal – duck houses, moat repairs, Jacqui Smith’s porn claim and so on.

Sadly, one of my favourites has largely been forgotten – the case of David Tredinnick MP, who charged the taxpayer for the software and tuition required so he could become an astrologer. No, not an astronomer like Brian Cox or the much-lamented Patrick Moore – an astrologer. Think Nostradamus, carnival sideshow con artists and newspaper horoscope columns that say things like “As the new phase of Venus enters the Cancerian optimum, consider buying a scratch card – or a second hand Vauxhall.”

I wrote about it for the TPA at the time, suggesting the public might like to email Mystic Tredinnick and request he read their future, given that they had paid for his so-called education. He didn’t take it very well, and as far as I’m aware he never did agree to give out any lottery numbers in advance – though he did later agree to pay back the money he had claimed.

This wasn’t a one-off. As well as his taxpayer-funded foray into the territory of Gypsy Rose Lee, the Member for Bosworth has also pressed the NHS to fund homeopathy, claimed that “remote healing” via telekinesis works despite the total absence of evidence and argued that surgeons and police officers should plan their work according to the cycle of the moon.

Now it has come to my attention, via The Geek Manifesto, that not only is the Parliamentary equivalent of Paul Daniels still going, but he has been elected onto the Science and Technology Select Committee. This is an MP who not only believes in just about every debunked alternative therapy going, but who openly and repeatedly places anecdotal evidence above statistical studies. The ability and the willingness to assess and weigh evidence is the foundation of science – and yet science policy will now be studied by someone who rejects the very concept of what is and is not evidence.

One of the Select Committee’s upcoming Inquiries is into the way clinical drug trials are carried out in the UK. Will the people really be best served by someone who rejects the evidential proof that homeopathy does not work?

It doesn’t take David Tredinnick’s crystal ball to see that this is a car crash waiting to happen.

EXCLUSIVE LEAK: Phillip Blond donor dissects ResPublica’s unpublishable and inadequate work

Posted on March 14, 2012

Last year, this blog exclusively revealed the financial troubles being faced by the notorious ResPublica think tank, run by Phillip Blond, the self-proclaimed guru of Red Toryism and supposed architect of the Big Society concept. As the story was picked up by the national press, a bizarre picture emerged of an organisation in a state of deranged chaos – staff locked out due to unpaid rent, company-funded Regency chairs decorated with 80s-style soft-porn and all sorts of other oddities.

All this raised the question that if Phillip Blond can’t run his own little empire, why on earth should anyone think his ideas of how to run Britain should be considered for even a second?

In a new exclusive, I can reveal that it’s not just Blond’s financial management that has proved dubious. The supposedly “academic” work his outfit has produced is grievously lacking – even according to one of his own major donors.

Two letters have been leaked to me that were sent to Blond by Stian Westlake, Executive Director of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. NESTA – an endowment fund formed of taxpayers’ money – was a ResPublica donor, having signed a contract to fund a series of six reports on a characteristically Blondian unfocused range of topics, from Lombardy Capitalism to the use of social capital to combat obesity, The money involved was sizeable –  at least £200,000 flowed from NESTA to ResPublica, which is a private company owned by Blond himself.

The first letter, sent to terminate NESTA’s contract with ResPublica, reveals a shocking story of woefully inadequate research being produced by Phillip Blond’s think tank. The full documents are below, but here are some choice quotes, detailing the lateness of the work:

…you then failed to deliver any of the five remaining reports and associated events by the respective milestone dates set out in the Agreement. The second report, due on 15 November 2009, was finally submitted 12 months late in November 2010.

its overall inadequacy:

…despite the extremely generous extensions of time given by NESTA to enable you to complete the reports, none of the reports are of a sufficient quality to be published by NESTA or satisfactory in terms of content or thoroughness… there are some positive elements in the reports, but each of them has significant weaknesses which mean that they are not suitable for publication, fit for our purposes or satisfactory to us as required by the Agreement.

and many specific failings, which the letter lays out in excruciating detail:

…poorly structured……contains no account of sources or bibliography……contains a large number of typos…

…lack of originality…

…poorly thought through…

…several of the recommendations appear either too vague to be useful…or questionable…

…unsubstantiated recommendation…

…vague or difficult to act on…

In short, the letter is a detailed and brutally honest dissection of the lightweight nature of Phillip Blond and his operation – written by one of his own donors. What people have long suspected – that Blond is essentially all long words, and philosophical pretensions, but no practical use – is illustrated by NESTA’s unfortunate experience.

It is hard to see anyone now being willing to hand over cash to ResPublica, or to give Phillip Blond any influence over public policy, given the mounting evidence that he has little clue what to do with either.

There are questions here for NESTA, too. Remarkably, the second letter shows that having already paid ResPublica over £128,000 before deciding to terminate their Agreement with such an incompetent outfit, NESTA still decided to pay a further £85,714.50 of taxpayers’ money, which they were not contractually obliged to, in order “to remain on amicable terms”. In what way is this a justifiable “commercial decision”? What value did taxpayers get from this wholesale handover of their money in return for apparently unpublishable work?

Here are the leaked letters in full:

NESTA ResPublica Phillip Blond Letter 1//

NESTA ResPublica Phillip Blond Letter 2

EXCLUSIVE: TFL 2012 staff trained on where Wembley and Stratford are

Posted on March 01, 2012

Giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on 24th January, Jeremy Hunt said that:

There is a huge amount of work going on, right down to training Tube drivers to make sure that we make Tube passengers feel particularly welcome in this special period for London

I was intrigued at what kind of training was being given to Transport for London staff – possibly “striking is a pain in the backside” would be a good start? So I made a Freedom of Information request to find out the details of the course.

Almost a week later than the legal deadline, and accompanied by a threatening note claiming that I’m not allowed to publish the information they’ve sent me (which I’m ignoring for obvious reasons centred around the words “freedom” and “information”), they’ve responded.

Given that the 9,600 people they are training all work on the London Underground, I was slightly surprised to say the least that part of the course is a Powerpoint presentation (screenshot below) teaching staff where in London the Olympic venues actually are.

Shouldn’t the staff for London’s transport system already know where, err, Stratford and Wembley are located?


The taxpayer funds a Union to preach to nobody

Posted on August 30, 2011

I’m back from holiday, so it’s a return to service as usual.

The row over taxpayer-funded Trade Unions has grown steadily over the last few months, particularly as the unions have greedily clung onto their subsidies for non-front line activities that often stray into political activism while other areas face spending reductions.

A great example of taxpayers’ money being funnelled into unions only to be wasted has come to my attention in the form of the Creative Toolkit website launched by BECTU, the media and entertainment union. According to BECTU’s website the Creative Toolkit was funded by the Union Modernisation Fund, one of the two main routes by which millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is poured into the unions.

The site is intended to campaign against unpaid internships and volunteer posts – some would say that if you want to work for free to beef up your CV you should be allowed to, while BECTU argue that it is fundamentally wrong to let anyone give labour for free, ever. We can leave that debate aside, though, and look at whether the project has delivered value for money to the taxpayers that funded it.

I don’t know how much the project and the website cost, though it’s a fairly shiny site and appears to be run by at least one BECTU member of staff. Given the profligacy of publicly funded digital projects, it’s safe to say it didn’t come cheap.

In return for our money, what impact has it had? Well, the site launched on the 10th of August, and so far it has….drumroll…58 signed up users. Including me, as well as several BECTU staff and members of their NEC.

So far there have been a mighty 7 posts made on their Community forum – of which three are from Sharon Elliott, a BECTU staffer, one is from Benetta Adams, a BECTU NEC member, and only three are from other users.

If a company had funded this, they would be furious – undoubtedly thousands of pounds spent on a campaigning website that has engaged 50 people. When will BECTU be asked to justify this taxpayer-funded failure and to give the money back? For that matter, when will taxpayer funding of trade unions cease outright?

Taxi for Bercow

Posted on October 19, 2010

John Bercow has been getting about in the North in his official role as Speaker of the Commons. Today in Parliament even went with him on a trip to Newcastle recently, where his mission was to persuade people that Parliament has reformed after the expenses scandal.

As the commentary went,

“We’re now at Newcastle station, about to board a taxi to St James’ Park, the home of Newcastle United…”

A taxi? The mucking in with real people campaign seems to have fallen at the first hurdle.

For those of you who haven’t had the good fortune to visit the Toon, Central Station is – erm – two stops on the Metro from St James’ Park. For those of a healthier disposition, Google estimates it to be 13 minutes walk away:

Even for a gentleman with shorter legs, that’s hardly a ten mile route march. If the new Speaker is continuing Michael Martin’s taxi addiction, then perhaps Parliament hasn’t really changed at all.

You’re free to smoke in Wandsworth

Posted on August 05, 2010

The London Borough of Wandsworth got some flak recently (from the TPA amongst others) for the huge amount of money they spent on enforcing the smoking ban. Despite spending £207,000, there were no fines or prosecutions at all in Wandsworth in the three years since the ban came in.

How come they spent so much but achieved so little? Are they incompetent? Is the ban just unenforceable?

I’m told by a source in Wandsworth that the true reason is much more encouraging from a libertarian point of view – “the officers working on it are essentially under instructions not to catch anyone”.

If that is so, good on Wandsworth for resisting the absurdity of a blanket smoking ban, the encroachment of the nanny state on individual liberty and the obscene redefinition of private companies like pubs and restaurants as “public spaces”.

If the idea of a society that threatens people with prosecution for smoking wasn’t evidence enough, it is surely proof of the nation’s insanity that even when ignoring a ban the council apparently either felt the need or were compelled by central government to squander £200,000 on not doing anything.

It was an appalling waste of money, but spending it on actually bullying smokers and businesses would have been even worse. It is good to know that instead of Wandsworth being “Smoke Free”, it is apparently “Free to Smoke”.