Iain Dale’s (biased) 2008-9 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK

As usual, I won’t be taking part in this charade (or anything else this old fraud is behind).

But this year, it looks like I’ll have some company:

Bob Piper – Why I won’t be voting in Iain Dale’s poll of top bloggers
Sunny Hundal – Not supporting Iain Dale’s top blogs competition
Unity – Iain’s Annual Blog Guide

My own personal opinion, just in case it’s not clear, is that Iain’s ‘guides to blogging’ have always been a scam in the past, nothing looks like being any different this year (he only realised at the last minute that he shouldn’t accept anonymous votes as readily as he accepts anonymous comments), and taking part in any way only really helps one person… Iain Dale.








Posted in The Political Weblog Movement | 16 Comments

The new ‘Iraq + 9/11′

Chicken Yoghurt – Check on delivery: There’s a small but significant difference between the transcript of the speech Gordon Brown made to the Knesset today and what he actually said…

Is this how he plans to later get away with claiming that he never said this or that about Iran and what nukes (Iran + nukes!) they may or may not have to hand? What else have we missed?








Posted in It's War! It's Legal! It's Lovely! | Comments Off

Your opportunity to watch an event from start to finish

As I have a keen interest in greater political transparency and openness (some have even criticised me for being ‘obsessed’ about it), I have applied to become a member of the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics.

They were allowing anyone to sign up and have they way with their little corner or Ning! last Friday/Saturday (which led to my being spammed courtesy of a ‘helpful’ sock-puppeteer who will be dealt with in due course). Now, new members need to be approved by administrators.

And here is where it (already) gets interesting…

I have applied for membership under my real name and and not a pseudonym, even though I know that they operate out of the same office as Paul Staines and my name alone is likely to count against me if there is an undeclared political alliance at work.

Which way will they jump and why?

I’ll let you know when a decision is made…








Posted in Tories! Tories! Tories! | 3 Comments

Sgt Streetwise

If you thought Life on Mars was awesome, prepare to be outcooled.

Unparalleled excitement and drama awaits you after the fold, with the (partial) adventures of Sgt Streetwise!

Continue reading








Posted in Geekage | Comments Off

Guido’s busted flush

Unity – Say goodbye to the Sith…: As I expected all along, Guido’s ‘crusade’ against the Smith Institute has turned out, on publication of the Charity Commission’s Inquiry Report, to be pretty much a busted flush. Overall, the Smith Institute has been criticised for failing to take sufficent steps to ensure that it maintained a clear public image of political neutrality and balance in the face of what has been, on Guido’s part, a quite blatant and sustained campaign of smears and innuendos, many of which have proved to lack any substance or foundation. So far as Guido’s role in instigating the investigation is concerned, the most telling piece of commentary in the report is the Commission’s account of his response to the Commission’s section 8 direction, which required him to deliver additional evidence that he claimed, at the time, to have in his possession… In short, when pushed to back-up his claim to have additional evidence to support his complaint, Guido produced nothing of substance that wasn’t already in the public domain.

Typical of Paul ‘Guido’ Staines. When asked to put up or shut up, he fails to put up… and then fails to shut up.

I’ve more to add on this, but if I’m to add it, it’ll have to wait until Monday. I’m off for two days as of 10 minutes from … (checks watch)… *now*… and it’s not polite to open fire on another blogger if you don’t plan on being there when they might wish to respond.

UPDATE (2pm, 21 July) – As it turns out, Unity blogged plenty more about this of his own accord, and Staines popped up late on Friday to assure us that everything was above board and all would be explained or become clear ‘on Monday’. We’re still waiting…

UPDATE (22 July) – Still waiting for Staines. Meanwhile Phil Hendren wishes to bring a similar report to your attention start a fight (because this kind of thing really impresses the chicks).








Posted in Tories! Tories! Tories! | 5 Comments

Nadine Dorries, Media Intelligence Partners and your money

I’m a busy guy (I’m currently trying to explain SEO in a way that a child can understand… long story), but happily this one’s a slam dunk, and little-to-no-effort is required to explain it:

-

1. Right to Know: 1st April – 30th June 2008 (A-E) (PDF)

Member of Parliament: Nadine Dorries
Constituency: Mid Bedfordshire

OFFICE COSTS (Incidental Expenses Provision)
Media Intelligence Partners = £2938

-

2. List of services provided by Media Intelligence Partners:

‘Media strategy’, ‘Media relations’, ‘Crisis management’, ‘Media Training’, ‘Public relations and political consultancy’, ‘Identity management’ and ‘Analysis and research’.

-

3. The Green Book (rules for) Parliamentary Salaries, Allowances and Pensions (PDF)

Incidental Expenses Provision (IEP)
5.13.2. Work commissioned and bought in services

Expenditure not allowable:
# Advice for individual Members on self promotion, or PR for individuals or political parties.

-

Dorries’ only possible escape route is very similar to Anne Milton’s intended escape route as it turns out, but it’s a narrow gap in a very big fence… and if this expenditure is linked back to the abortion ‘debate’ (which included many notable media appearances and exchanges involving Dorries, if you recall), then David Cameron will have to dive to avoid the shrapnel.








Posted in Tories! Tories! Tories! | Comments Off

The Parliamentary Resources Unit (PRU) scam

The Conservative Party owes taxpayers 2 million pounds and change, and I mean to collect.

Please note that the above is a preliminary figure. How soon I get to an exact figure depends on the PRU’s willingness to be transparent. For now, this is a (*cough*) conservative estimate based on the following:

According to the Daily Mail, the Parliamentary Resources Unit was set up in 1997 by Tory ‘loverat’, proud Quad Bike owner and devout opponent of Parliamentary transparency David Maclean.

(Incidentally, David Maclean’s website comes to us via Palace Computing, courtesy of the Incidental Expenses Provision.)

As the Evening Standard reports; “78 Tory MPs (are currently) claiming Commons expenses to pay for the party’s ‘Parliamentary Resources Unit’.” (Details can be found here, if you’re willing to wade through them. I missed a fair few subscribers in my previous post, as some have claimed a whole year this quarter, while others have only claimed a quarter this quarter. It is also likely that there are current subscribers who have claimed nothing this quarter.) The PRU itself claims to provide; “briefing, research, correspondence and related support to 150 Conservative MPs and front bench peers.”

Applying an estimated average of 75 subscribers per year who claim this cost back from the taxpayer seems more than reasonable.

Currently a PRU subscription costs just a shade under four thousand pounds a year (£3877.50 p/a to be precise), but a subscription probably cost less in 1997. I’m going to be very generous and assume it went as low as two thousand pounds or under and apply an average of £2500 p/a.

11 years x 75 subscribers x £2500 = just a shade over 2 million pounds.

OK, that’s the (preliminary) figure. Now let’s get to the part where the Conservative Party needs to pay it back to the taxpayer…

As the Evening Standard reports; Labour MPs pay about £2000 a year out of their own pockets towards their party’s Resource Centre (i.e. their equivalent of the PRU), which provides research and advice for backbenchers.

This money is not claimed back from expenses, but from the MPs’ pay packets. In short, the Tories lift this expense from the pocket of the taxpayer and Labour do not.

Now, can we be grown-ups about this, and acknowledge that this isn’t purely about how ‘legal’ or ‘compliant’ an arrangement is? If it appears inequitable to the average voter, then Cameron has a problem to the tune of at least 2 million and change (and he certainly can’t expect the MPs and former MPs involved to cough up the cash… it’s just not going to happen).

But let’s take a look at compliance anyway, because (again, one needs to be a grown-up about it) David Cameron isn’t going to do a damn thing about this unless he feels he has to. Showing a poor level of compliance (or a mere veneer of same) turns the screws and increases the possibility of taxpayers retrieving this cash.

So let’s start screwing and squeezing. I’ll start, shall I?

The PRU makes a lot of noise about ‘compliance’, but take a quick peek at the job description they provide for their ongoing call for interns:

The successful candidate must have:
# a proven interest in UK domestic politics, ideally in one or two specific areas of policy;
# strong organisational, writing and research skills;
# good interpersonal skills and the ability to perform in a team;
# willingness to write enthusiastically on behalf of Conservative MPs and Peers.

[Psst! This job ad also featured on the Conservative Party website until yesterday. This ad on w4mp.org carries a large ‘Conservatives’ logo and a prominent link to the Conservative Party website. The nature of the job and who you’ll really be working for is made very clear to applicants, if not the public at large.]

Now in which direction do you think that enthusiasm “on behalf of Conservative MPs and Peers” will be most appreciated from an unpaid and highly disposable intern?

One might get the impression from this ongoing advertisement for interns that an inherent bias toward Conservative policy/thinking is not only a desirable attribute, but a goddamn job requirement.

A zoo that only keeps ferrets is not a zoo, it is a home for ferrets. The natural behaviour of most animals will be distinctly ferret-like, no matter how many of them you shave (it’s a lizard!) dress in wetsuits (it’s a seal!) or nail to perches (it’s a parrot!) to give the illusion of balance and diversity.

[Old Joke: I went to an animal park once, and it only had one lousy dog in a cage. It was a Shih Tzu.]

For now, I’ll hand over to the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard and Labour MP John Mann for more… but don’t think for a second that we as should leave this to the old-schoolers or even certain ‘leading’ bloggers who have blogged the data release (1, 2) but shown an alarming lack of curiosity about the data itself. Bloggers from Westminster village might find sport in the PRU’s who’s who.








Posted in Tories! Tories! Tories! | 4 Comments

Proof that my kids are more mature than some ‘leading’ bloggers

From the end-of-term report for a 10-year-old I’m very proud of:








Posted in The Political Weblog Movement | 2 Comments

JibJab: It’s time for some campaignin’

Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

Top stuff from JibJab. As with their 2004 offering, they play no favourites and pull no punches as they cut, slice, dice and mash their way through the main players in the race for the White House. There’s also a neat little viral extra that allows you to put yourself (or a friend/enemy) into the video for a cameo appearance as the average voter.








Posted in Flash Music Video, Games and Objects | Comments Off

Anne Milton, Parliamentary Liaison Services (PLS) and Palace Computing

Times – Tory MPs’ use of staff budgets to pay for PR advice ‘against rules’: MPs are paying up to £10,000 from their staffing budgets for services from public relations firms in an apparent breach of Parliamentary rules, The Times has learnt. As MPs finally agreed to undertake limited reforms of their expenses, the first disclosure of how Tory MPs spent their allowances has revealed more than a dozen Conservatives, including Shadow Cabinet members, are using their allowances to pay PR firms. Companies such as Parliamentary Liaison Services (PLS) and Media Intelligence are being paid from staffing and office budgets, with the head of PLS claiming he works as a “communications adviser” for up to 20 MPs. This would appear to be in breach of the Green Book, which outlines the rules for MPs. It says there is an explicit bar on “advice for individual Members on self promotion, or PR for individuals or political parties”…. The MPs who list their use of PLS services are Simon Burns, James Gray, Jonathan Djanogly, James Dudderidge, James Gray, Damian Green, Stephen Hammond, John Horam, David Lidington, Anne Milton, Owen Paterson and John Whittingdale.

(The full details of these disclosures are available here.)

Anne Milton claimed £7347.53 from her communications allowance between 1st April – 30th June 2008. Typically, unlike many other Conservative MPs (most of whom claimed considerably less), she offers no details regarding this expenditure.

The only MP who claimed more than Anne Milton against their communications allowance in this period was David Davies (£7494.76).

Amme would have claimed the top spot easily if the amounts she had paid to Politicos Design (£1838 for “website support”) and/or Parliamentary Liaison Services (£2350 “in respect of a business survey”) had been claimed against her communications allowance and not her staff budget.

“But why should she do so for an innocent fact-finding survey?” one of her more ardent, blinkered and downright vicious supporters might ask.

Well, perhaps instead of asking me they should ask David Lidington, who claimed £1115 against his communications allowance (instead of his staffing budget) for “Reimbursement to PLS Ltd of money spent on survey of constituency businesses.”

Perhaps Amme would care to explain (a) what made her business survey from PLS so different to David Lidington’s, (b) why she thinks outsourced website fees should be absorbed into staff costs, and especially (c) exactly what she blew the other £7347.53 on.

She certainly didn’t spend any money communicating with me. I haven’t heard a damn thing from her since she offered this pissweak response to questions about the £13,000 of taxpayer’s money that went into her husband’s pocket.

[Incidentally, David Lidington and John Horam (who claimed against his staff allowance payments made to PLS Ltd for “Work on constituency newspaper”) both had their websites (“funded from the Incidental Expenses Provision”) built/supplied by Palace Computing (formerly Finbyte Ltd). Palace Computing shares a poky attic-like space with Parliamentary Liaison Services on the 5th floor at 38 Grosvenor Gardens, SW1W 0EB – and the two companies have a lot more in common than their common address and the kind of grand official-sounding names one normally expects from inventive people like Joseph Obi. Not that I’m suggesting that they’re in any way dishonest, heavens no. It just might appear to some bystanders that a lot of taxpayer’s money flows through that office and they shouldn’t be surprised if someone decides to start poking around. Oh, and I hope they’ll forgive me for being so unkind, but the web design skillz of Palace Computing strike me as being very… 20th century.]

UPDATE – Curse me for a fool. I let another official-sounding name pass me by…

Paul Waugh – Has Cameron unwittingly exposed a Tory fiddle?: The Times today points out that yesterday’s list of expenses revealed that some Tories are claiming up to £10k for PR budgets. But my attention has also been brought to the other mysterious item that crops up on many of their expense claims. Many, including Mr Cameron himself, use taxpayers’ cash to fund a subscription to a “Parliamentary Resources Unit”. Sounds innocuous enough, doesn’t it? But this turns out to be a unit that helps only Tory MPs. The PRU, as it is known, has been around for more than 10 years but until yesterday few Labour MPs realised just how the Tories were funding it – partly through Parliamentary allowances, as well as Short Money.

These documents reveal 36 near-identical ‘annual subscription’ payments to the PRU in this quarter of £3877 or £3877.50 filed under ‘office costs’. That’s nearly £140K reported in this quarter alone. If all Conservative MPs pay this same rate, it adds up to just a shade under £750K per annum. Three quarters of a million squid a year, out of your pocket and mine, to pay for a Tory-only research unit.

UPDATE – PRU claims to provide services to; “150 Conservative MPs and front bench peers”. That’s just over half a million squid a year if we take this as a precise figure, so I’m sure you’re feeling a lot more relaxed about it now.

UPDATE (18 Jul) – I *knew* I smelled something nasty in Grosvenor Gardens. Here, watch these two pieces suddenly click together. These are the WHOIS details for the websites of the Parliamentary Resources Unit. You’ll never guess in a million years who looks after them:

Domain name: PRUONLINE.ORG.UK

Registrant:
Palace Computing

Registrant type:
Unknown

Registrant’s address:
38 Grosvenor Gardens
London
SW1W 0EB
GB

Registrar:
Easyspace Ltd t/a Easyspace Ltd [Tag = EASYSPACE]

Relevant dates:
Registered on: 02-Sep-2002
Renewal date: 02-Sep-2008
Last updated: 21-Aug-2006

Registration status:
Registered until renewal date.

Name servers:
ns1.easypost.com
ns3.easypost.com

~

Domain name: PARLIAMENTARYRESOURCES.COM

Registrant:
Palace Computing
38 Grosvenor Gardens
London, SW1W 0EB
GB

Administrative Contact:
Roberts, Hugh nick@palacecomputing.co.uk
38 Grosvenor Gardens
London, SW1W 0EB
GB
020 7730 9706 Fax: 020 7730 4854

Technical Contact:
Roberts, Hugh nick@palacecomputing.co.uk
38 Grosvenor Gardens
London, SW1W 0EB
GB
020 7730 9706 Fax: 020 7730 4854

Registrar of Record: Easyspace Ltd.
Record last updated on 22-May-2008.
Record expires on 01-Aug-2009.
Record created on 01-Aug-2003.

Domain servers in listed order:
NS3.EASYPOST.COM 62.128.193.206
NS1.EASYPOST.COM 84.22.162.11

UPDATE (18 Jul) – Anne Milton has made a defiant statement to our local newspaper. Apparently she sees nothing wrong with using taxpayer’s money (reserved for staff-related expenses) to pay a PR company to conduct a “business survey” and she plans to do so again in the future. Milton is then quoted as saying; “I do not use them for PR, I use them for business,” because – and I don’t think it’s unfair to describe the quote that followed this as totally moronic – “Business is significant in Guildford and an important part of the local economy.”

No shit, Sherlock… but I fail to see how this obvious observation serves as mitigation.

The first time I encountered Milton was over a push-polling call to my home. When confronted about it, she played the innocent lamb when she knew exactly what was going on and why it was wrong. But, just in case she is innocent this time [rolls eyes], here’s some advice for Amme the Lamb:

PR companies tend to specialise in public relations. That’s what the ‘PR’ stands for. If a PR company has any expertise in conducting surveys, that expertise will quite logically lean toward asking questions that get desirable answers and then presenting the already-skewed data that results in a manner that is most favourable to the client and/or the agenda of the client. If you wish to avoid suspicion in future, you may want to commission business surveys from companies that specialise in business surveys and other forms of polling and research. To further avoid suspicion, you may even wish to choose a company that doesn’t have clearly-cemented and very profitable ties to the Conservative Party.

UPDATE (18 Jul) – I’ve asked Amme’s office for a copy of the survey that they seemed perfectly happy to share with all sorts of people a few weeks ago (because business is important to the economy, dontcha know), but now they’re shy all of a sudden, and I have to wait for Anne Milton herself to get back to me. I don’t *want* Anne Milton to get back to me, and I didn’t *ask* for Anne Milton to get back to me because – as I have already made clear – the last time she got back to me about something like this she fobbed me off with a lie. What I want is a copy of that survey.

UPDATE (18 Jul) – And here’s a picture I collected this morning, boys and girls. Two companies. One button. At the risk of repeating myself, I think it’s fair to say that it just might appear to some bystanders that a lot of taxpayer’s money flows through this office. In fact, I would even add that the PRU’s choice of Palace Computing for web services smells of a party political arrangement. More on the PRU in a dedicated post at lunchtime today. Work awaits.

PLS Ltd








Posted in Anne Milton, Tories! Tories! Tories! | 3 Comments