Thursday, 30 April 2009

All Parties Can Work Together

I tend to write political blogs two or three days in advance but I wanted to publish this blog today. I listened to Nick Clegg yesterday and he was making almost exactly the same point to the Prime Minister as my last paragraph in last Sunday's blog about the Ghurkas. He said 'people who are willing to die for our country, should be allowed to live in our country'. He managed to repeat this statement as it is a most important point. The next I heard was on the news and the government had been defeated because the Conservatives and some Labour MPs had voted for a Liberal Democrat motion.

As I understand it, the Labour Party inherited a situation from the Conservatives that did not allow Ghurkas to stay in this Country. I really don't mind politicians changing their minds on any subject. It is a sign of great strength if you can say that you have been persuaded by the power of the argument. This means the same thing as 'I was previously wrong' but I would not expect a politician to say that. Moreover it is really important to see politicians of all parties working together to achieve the best result. Well done to all.

Change the world.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Would Rousseau approve?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a French philosopher who was perhaps most famous for his work on the social contract. This book outlines political order, and the memorable quote is the first line, 'Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains'. We are in chains because of political organisation. However in order to be free Rousseau believed that we had to participate in politics. To paraphrase his work, all you need for good government is participation and a chat under an oak tree.

The Morecambe Parish Council gives us a new level of participation. Rousseau would be pleased with Morecambe for doing this. However there is a strict agenda to parish councils. There are no 'matters arising' unless they are strictly regulated to prohibit any new information. There is no 'any other business' because the council. and more importantly the public, who have the right to be present at each meeting, do not want agenda items sprung on them. Rousseau would not be happy with this. He was 'anti-agenda', but overall I think that he would be pleased with what is happening in Morecambe.

The need for delay in agenda items reminded me of the maxim that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. I was told that three days notice are needed before an item could be discussed but meetings may be monthly or even less frequent. So a delay of one meeting may mean that it is held over for months This may be a wonderful defence of our democracy. It may be that the decision making process is quite slow.

One person raised a question about getting things on the agenda. The responsibility rests with the parish clerk. The questioner was concerned that some voices may not be heard but there is always this possibility in any organisation.

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Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Morecambe Town Council

I went to a meeting this evening (27th April) about the formation of a Morecambe Parish Council. Before I tell you some of the things that happened I will briefly mention that the Morecambe Bay Independent Party instigated the formation of the Parish Council. They are a party with seats on the district council. There are also other groups on the district council: the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, there are also some Independents, and to make it even more complicated there are some free independents.

Some of the Morecambe Bay Independents were present tonight, including the main proposer of the Parish Council. I felt that one person in the audience managed to insult her because he claimed that the best way that a council could act is without reference to party politics. She wished to make the point that her registered party was not a party (?) but acted on behalf of individuals as opposed to the other registered parties.

I agree with the comment that party politics is not the best way forward at any level, but it is the system that we have to live with. MPs are elected almost always because they are linked to a party. Occasionally you get single issue MPs like Martin Bell elected. Ideally we would have a fully participitative democracy and who knows, with the progress of technology we may eventually achieve this. In the meantime let's work with parties (including the Morecambe Bay Independent Party) to the best of our abilities.

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Monday, 27 April 2009

Where is David Cameron's Thrift?

I have written blogs about the need for a government. Governments serve many useful purposes and people appreciate their work even if they don’t like paying for them. However we are facing tough times and the service may get worse. How does a political party get votes and make cuts? It seems that David Cameron’s answer is to talk tough but say nothing. He will make tough decisions on the economy. Great. That will save money. He won't cut education. He won’t cut overseas aid. That’s good but that costs a lot. Where is the thrift coming from? Who knows? He defended his decision not to outline his spending plans immediately, on the grounds that detailed plans would become completely out of date.

One minor cut is to scrap the ID cards but this is not a big area for spending. Furthermore by saving on ID cards he has split his party. Conservative views on ID cards, on Europe... the list goes on. To say things like the money has run out is simply ridiculous but gets press coverage.

It's not just on the spending side of the equation that Mr Cameron tries to have it both ways. He said that Chancellor Alistair Darling's new 50 per cent top tax rate was a "pathetic piece of class war posturing" but also said that removing this higher tax rate would not be a priority.

Vince Cable has asked for a grown up debate on the economy. Let’s hope David can respond.

Change the world.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Fight and Die or Go Home.

Do you know that the United Kingdom includes Northern Ireland? Do you know Great Britain is made up of England, Wales and Scotland? You will need to know the answer to questions like these if you want to pass the 'life in the United Kingdom test'. It is a test for foreigners who wish to become British. There is a book to help you revise, but I wonder how many British citizens would pass without revision.

There is no question, 'would you fight for this country and be willing to die?' but this is what the Ghurkas (also commonly spelled Gurkhas) have done for us. Joanna Lumley is eloquently fighting their cause but the government has not listened. It has given a list of criteria that allows Ghurkas to live in this country which basically means that the vast majority cannot do so. The most telling point for me is that a Ghurka who has an award can stay but no award and they can't. The message this sends out to all soldiers including British soldiers is that you are not a real soldier unless you have an award.

The answer is so simple. If you are prepared to trust someone with a gun to join our forces then you should also trust them with citizenship. The alternative is that we tell prospective soldiers to fight and die for us but clear off if you live. Those pre-1997 Ghurkas have fought honourably for us and we should do the honourable thing and allow them a right of settlement if that is their wish.

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Saturday, 25 April 2009

Wheelie Bins Good or Bad?

There is an article in the news that is about wheelie bins that are not being taken back into the owners' property. Fines are taking place in Pendle because these bins are a hazard to the fire service.

I don't know if I am stating the obvious but this means that even accounting for one collection per fortnight, the new system has caused a fire hazard to one fourteenth of our household properties. There were objections when the wheelie bins were introduced. I defended them because they are fairly easy to manoeuvre and cats can't get into them. However the days of the bin man moving your bin and putting it back where it came from have gone.

There is a further problem with the wheelie bins. If people are being fined on a regular basis we have created a new class of criminal. It was not possible to commit this crime a few years ago. Additionally, we need more council staff to just to deal with the new crimes.

If the bottom line is the bins are a fire hazard I have changed my mind on what I thought was a beneficial change.

Change the world

Friday, 24 April 2009

Den, James, Gordon and Expenses

Den Dover is in the news again. He is looking to clear his name from all the allegations about his expenses as a north-west MEP. I wrote about him in the blog on Sunday 19th April and he tells us again that he is fighting to clear his name. I think he is just digging a deeper hole for himself. The more he works to highlight his innocence, the more people will know about what he has been doing.

On TV he was asked about his three cars. His reply was that he had generously donated one of them. What he didn't say is that the two cars on MEP expenses cost us £65 000. Does he really feel that this is justified? He still defends himself by claiming to work within the guidelines, but this has not stopped the call for a return of the majority of his claims. He was also questioned about being kicked out of the Tory Party. His reply was that he had been temporarily suspended.

I got the feeling after admitting to suspension that Den felt a little guilty about his family's gravy train, because he talked about a revision of MEPs' expenses. If Den is showing a hint of shame then I would rate James Purnell's abuse of the system worse, because he has no shame. Even though he claimed a lot less than Den, James had no inkling of doing anything wrong. How do we make MPs appreciate their abuse of the system. Gordon has realised the importance of what is happening. Unfortunately his response has not been good enough. A flat rate may be simple but it is hardly fair, or should I say related to expense. Are we really hearing that expenses are abused so let's replace the expenses system to one which is nothing to do with expenses! Perhaps Gordon should ask bloggers for advice.

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Thursday, 23 April 2009

A Prudent Tax System

Kenneth Clarke is on Newsnight (20th April) telling us that the Conservatives would be prudent with our taxes. He doesn't know how he is going to raise taxes when asked by Jeremy Paxman. Ken is looking for prudence and tells us we should not be confident about the economy until there is something to be confident about. It's the opposite of FDR's (see the 'recession or depression' blog on the 11th April) speech which tried to get the economy going by lifting confidence.

What does prudence mean? Does it mean sacking Government employees? Does it mean cutting the role of government? Does it mean cutting MPs' expenses? It is a vague statement which says vote for us and we will lower taxes. Our tax system is not fair. A naive opinion would be that tax is present in order to redistribute wealth in the direction of the poor. What actually happens if that the rich pay proportionately less tax than the poor. We live in a strange system that allows our pop stars to live in tax havens and pay a much smaller percentage of tax than those with low or middle incomes.

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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

A Civilised Society

We are coming up to elections for Europe and elections for the County Council and the internet in general and blogs in particular are really efficient ways to get over policies and opinions. I recently came across the Libertarian Party on the internet so I thought that I would make them the subject of this blog.

The Libertarian Party does not believe in interfering government and would abolish income tax. This sounds wonderful. However, compare it to most of my blogs that mention a civilised society is one that looks after its poor and sick and those in need. If we had no income tax then new systems would have to be devised that would mirror the actions of government. Who would look after our roads? Who would police us? Who would run the judicial system? Who would put out our fires? It strikes me that the views of the Libertarian Party may sound popular if you don't pause for thought. I would not pay income tax - great. Who pays for our education system? Surely not the poorest in society which are often the people with children. Who would insure us against fire? Who would take us to war and decide on the size of our armed forces? The essence of government is to look after our collective needs. Put this in the hands of private enterprise and we have no say in what is essential to us.

When I speak to people in Morecambe about the town council that is to be formed this year, they generally don’t know about it or think it is a good idea as long as services improve. People want their streets cleaned, their parks their police and armed forces. They want government and council services and by default they want taxes.

Margaret Thatcher said 'there is no such thing as society'. It shows a lack of caring and is not one of her better quotes but it is one that has been taken up by the Libertarian Party. Do think about how you are going to vote and don’t be taken in by people who say they are going to abolish income tax. It is important to vote as politics is all around us and we have to participate otherwise a private police force will have free reign to do the will of a minimalistic government. No taxes sounds good but tax and a social democracy sounds so much better.

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Tuesday, 21 April 2009

183 times 24

For those not familiar with the term, 'waterboarding' is a technique used in interrogations, where a person is held down or strapped to a board, a towel is wrapped around their head, and water is poured onto the towel. It is described as 'simulated drowning', and differs from actual drowning in that the victim is, in most cases, kept alive. The Spanish inquisition used waterboarding. Japanese who used it against Americans in WW2 were convicted of war crimes. It is almost universally accepted that waterboarding is torture. Only the Bush administration used euphemisms such as 'enhanced interrogation techniques' to describe it and other, even worse, practices.

The Justification given by former Bush administration officials such as Dick Cheney was that waterboarding was necessary in order to avert immediate terrorist threats. This is the so-called '24' scenario, named after the American TV show, in which it regularly happens that terrorist plots are thwarted by police use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques'. It is also known as the 'ticking bomb' scenario. Torture is bad, yes, but can’t it be justified if a bomb is ticking and the use of torture will save thousands of lives?

I’m trying to reconcile this scenario with the newly released documents in the US which show that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged al Qaeda number 2 and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was waterboarded by the CIA 183 times in just one month, March 2003. The only conclusion I can arrive at is that there must have been 183 ticking bombs that month, and Khalid spilled the beans on each of those plots, just in time for the interrogators to avert the crisis and move on to the next one. Or am I missing something?

Change the world.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Eric Pickles and Any Questions

Eric Pickles was on Any Questions this week. He was talking about the G20 protesters when someone heckled him. Everyone heard 'nonsense' apart from Eric himself who heard something much stronger. It is good to be able to listen more intensely than anyone in the audience and to concentrate on speaking at the same time. His response was to say that he had gone into politics to stop people like this heckler from forming a lynch mob against policemen caught on mobile phone cameras.

The thing that struck me was Eric Pickles must have prepared this defence. Everyone heard 'nonsense' but even if I were in the audience I would be wondering if someone else did say something else at the same time and I didn't hear it. Nice one Eric. There is an alternative to him preparing his oratory well. He could be paranoid. I will be interested to read the transcript for the programme later in the week.

Even if someone has used strong language to support the protester rather than the policeman does this equate to wanting to form a lynch mob? I don't think so. Everyone that I have spoken to believes the policeman is innocent until proven guilty. We are all on the same side Eric. I don't want to prejudge any enquiry. It does look like police actions are over zealous but who am I to use stronger words than that and risk the wrath of Eric?

I will support the rights of people to protest and this may also mean that on occasions strong language is appropriate but I prefer calm and measured protest. Eric is right that the policeman is innocent until proven guilty. He is wrong to stifle protest. He is creating a lynch mob of his own with his strong emotion and imagined thoughts. He has got hold of completely the wrong end of the stick, and this time it is metaphorical not a police baton.

Change the world.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

I am not breaking any rules

On the 14th April I wrote about a Labour MP who has claimed over £400 per month on expenses for groceries. My comments were very restrained but this sort of thing should not be going on. There was a defence given that the claims were 'within Commons guidelines'. Well done for keeping part of your tax-free expenses so low (they were lowered to the limit because he asked too much). Of much greater concern is that one of his supporters said 'we have no intention of commenting on leaked documents'. The more you look, the more it seems that the only check on government is leaked documents. Long may they continue.

For the sake of balance I will write about ex-Conservative MEP Den Dover. He too has vigorously denied any wrongdoing as he claimed over £750 000 in seven years to pay for office staff which happened to be a family firm employing his wife and daughter. He was thrown out of the Conservative Party last year, however his website has not been updated, and it still looks like he is a member. Perhaps he needs to pay his office staff more to keep his website updated, but he has been ordered to pay back half a million pounds. There is no clear enforcer for this punishment. It is also not clear why he does not have to give it all back plus a fine for flagrant misuse of public funds. Let's see if he gives any of it back. His comment prior to this ruling was 'everyone agrees that I am not breaking any of the parliament's rules'. Where have I heard this defence before? Everywhere.

You will hear at election time that MPs and MEPs must uphold the highest standards. They are only human and may be prone to mistakes. We can do two things to stop this happening. Firstly the system for expenses must be reformed, which are wide open to ridicule. Secondly improve our electoral system so that the voters can react more readily to any abuse of power.

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Saturday, 18 April 2009

Shame on NHS management

Well done Margaret Haywood. She filmed patients who were not being cared for in the NHS and this film was used on the BBC show Panorama. She was struck off as she 'failed to follow her obligations as a nurse'.

There are plenty of managers in the NHS each responsible for their little area, and each feeding back information and taking advice. In fact everyone in the NHS is a manager. If they have forgotten then they need to look at their contract. Managers are everywhere. If you see a lack of care, it is not there by chance. This situation has already been managed and not dealt with. If I had been in her position and I had filmed those patients, I would make sure that my personal care was the best possible care, and that I had gone through the appropriate protocol and nothing has happened. Only then would I resort to using cameras. However as a patient who may not be receiving the best care then I may like a camera of my own. Doctors use them for training purposes. Patients could use them for the purpose of avoiding abuse. The trouble is that abuse occurs to the weakest members of society, and this is just one more example of inequality in the health service.

Panorama had received thousands of complaints about care in the NHS. Mrs Haywood had taken her complaints to her manager. Nothing had changed, and the management system which did not attend to their own monitoring of the situation and did not respond to her complaints is the same management system that struck her off. Shame on them.

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Friday, 17 April 2009

Health and Education

Safety nets are the mark of a civilised society, and our health service should be based on need not on ability to pay. We do have many private health schemes and there is nothing wrong with people paying for health care, but problems occur when there is a link between private and NHS. Has the consultant been delayed because they spent longer with an NHS patient who was in need or because they added a private patient to their morning list?

Education should be based not on need but on ability. There are many instances when we 'need' to read and write but I hesitate to use this word because some people can't. I prefer the word ability, and we should allow our children to train to the best of their ability. You will know if you have read my blogs that I am not a great fan of the 50% target for university entrance. I am equally not a fan of putting a stop to training because of lack of funding.

There is some support in place for students but many have not continued with a PhD course because of lack of funding. I remember reading this was why the Corpus Christi contestant in the final of University Challenge told us he was studying chemistry. He forgot that he had stopped being a student, but he really was clever. A lot of people are in the same boat, but someone takes up the PhD place. Is it an overseas student or someone with private funding? If the student is able, financial restrictions should not prevent their progress.

Health should be based on need and education should be based on ability.

Change the world.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

What does matriculation mean?

I like local, national and international politics. All are important and they all affect our lives, but this time I will deal with a big national issue, education, education and education. I have written about it in the blog 'who should go to university?' but really I think the important years are the early years at nursery and primary school. You can get a good idea as to how well pupils are doing at the age of 16 by looking at the league tables, and the next time they come out take a look at the percentages for those who get five good GCSEs. More than half fail to get this figure.

There is a possibility that pupils are late developers but in general teachers know how well the pupils are going to do at GCSE when they arrive at secondary school. The teachers are pleased if some value is added to the abilities of their pupils. This leads to the conclusion that we have to improve our primary teaching if we want better standards at GCSE. If we want half of our students to be academically excellent and go to university then we need to do a lot more at an early age. Alternatively we can direct teenagers to university who have just managed to matriculate or we can say the world of academia is not for everyone and train for skills. Ironically matriculate, meeting the standards to get to university, comes from the Latin for little list. We need a new word that means big list.

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Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Who has authority in Gordon's office?

The lead story on News at Ten (14th April) continues to be David Cameron asking for an apology for the email scandal. He says that 'only a change in government can change this sort of nonsense'. I am sure that David has a thick skin. In fact he has no reason to be offended by remarks that make him a political victim and will help his cause. He is playing a political game which says 'elect us now because the government has done something wrong'. This nonsense will undoubtedly continue with a change of government.

Everyone agrees that the emails were terrible. However it seems that the problem only arose because the emails were leaked. It seems that the checks and balances on our government are based on leaks. What else had Damian McBride done? He wrote the latest insults but I presume that his character has not totally changed in the last few days. What has Gordon done to help these very important leaks keep control of his office? Gordon hasn't said sorry but everyone believes that the emails are terrible. He should say sorry but I am more concerned about the changes that are required to stop this happening again.

Sleaze knows no political boundaries. One commentator said that John Major was not involved in sleaze but Gordon Brown is at the heart of this scandal. He obviously doesn't remember John Major asking us to return to family values while he was having an affair with Edwina Currie. Which is worse on your scale of moral values, an insult or an affair?

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Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Oscar Wilde's cynical politicians

We may have politicians who are very well educated, so well that they know the rules and regulations and they work them to the maximum benefit. The cynic according to Oscar Wilde is the man who "knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." A cynic puts great emphasis on selfishness and looks to this as a primary motivator for behaviour. This is clearly what is being seen time and time again with MPs expenses. The common defence is that they have done nothing wrong - they know the price of everything and no law may have been broken. What is happening is that claims are being made that are not proportionate to need.

In November last year James Purnell, the Secretary of State for works and Pensions left confidential information on a train. I would consider this faux pas slightly more important than that of Bob Quick (see blog 12th April) but I would not call for his resignation because of one mistake. On the news tonight I see that he has claimed for his groceries on expenses. How do groceries become an expense? What is the salary for? Not only has he done something which to most people would seem strange, to say the least, he has also claimed nearly £500 per month. What is he buying as a tax-free expense?

This is the same man who was at the centre of the news two years ago to place him in a group photograph using photo manipulation. He may not have broken any laws when his photo was manipulated. he may not have broken any laws leaving confidential information on a train. He may not have broken any laws claiming for his tins of beans. What has happened is our faith in politicians is tarnished. He needs to know the value in his actions not the cost.

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Monday, 13 April 2009

Political Tactics

Does Gordon Brown have to say sorry for emails that were sent by one of his advisors suggesting a smear on top Tories? The Tories say yes and Gordon's party says no. Gordon had nothing to do with this but he is responsible for his office. Just because the person concerned has resigned does not mean that the matter is closed. What is to stop the next person doing exactly the same thing? What checks has Gordon put in place?

David Cameron has asked for an apology for the suggestion of smears. He should have a thicker skin and he should know that politics is about presenting your policies in the best possible light and the opposition's in the worst. How this presentation occurs often leaves something to be desired. Personally, I find it hard to believe the way our MPs behave in Parliament. It sounds like members should be in an unruly school class. We are all aware of the insults that are documented and David Cameron is also well aware of the rude remarks that are not documented. If he is serious about making politics a cleaner place then he should look again at the House of Commons.

Would I apologise for the thought of a smear in my office? Yes of course. I would take responsibility for my employees. However a much bigger apology is required for the behaviour of our elected representatives.

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Sunday, 12 April 2009

Would you go on Any Questions?

I am listening to this week's Any Questions and I am wondering what it would be like to be on the panel. The first question: was Bob Quick right to resign? His mistake was to show documents to the press as he was walking into Downing Street. The reason why he had to carry loose documents is because briefcases are not allowed into number 10. It seems that we cannot trust people in Downing Street. I don't include myself in this lack of trust because I would not get into the street anyway. So we can't trust those who are invited past the gates.

Nobody is perfect and we have all made mistakes. We have no alternative but to live in a less than perfect life but I particularly dislike premeditated mistakes. This was an accident. Unfortunately this is the same officer who has made very public premeditated mistakes. The Downing Street error was rather large, and set in the context of his previous mistakes I would consider resignation a reasonable response.

This was the first question. You can't go on the programme without an opinion or without preparation. I think that I could handle the questions, but my only concern would be the last comedy question for which it is more difficult to prepare. The last question this week was about Easter eggs and what would you like it to hatch into. I don't think I'll bother asking for an invitation to the Any Questions panel, but stick with blogs.

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Saturday, 11 April 2009

Does honesty pay dividends?

In my blog on Friday 10th April the heading was 'Honesty Can Pay Voter Dividends', but this was written by a newspaper editor. My intention in writing the letter was to get politicians to work together and not criticise each other. Life would be so much better if we didn't make claims to things that we haven't done and if we could always vote the way for what we felt was right. I prefer to be persuaded by argument rather than be told how to vote in a three-line whip.

When I read the heading for my letter I felt that it was not quite right. Although I like to think that the moral high ground is the place to be, sometimes the low ground gets the votes. Very often dishonesty can pay voter dividends. When Jeremy Paxman interviewed Michael Howard in 1997 he asked "Did you threaten to overrule him?" twelve times and still didn't get an answer. It doesn't really matter that the question was about the Home Office and the prison service as it is more a question of evading the question. Answer the question and politicians may seem weak. It is not dishonest to avoid answering a question and it may be seen as a strength that you can avoid troublesome questions. I would prefer it if our politicians answered questions but honesty may not pay dividends.

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Recession or Depression?

Economically things aren’t looking too good at the moment. They didn’t look too good in 1933 when Franklin D Roosevelt said “There is nothing to fear but fear itself." It was in the middle of the Great Depression which started in America with the stock market crash of 1929 and went on for over ten years. He was making the point that how we view things affects the economic climate. If we perceive things to be bad then we are not going to spend money and the economy spirals into decline. However there are many people who are in secure jobs or who have savings. They could spend money but may be thinking that their circumstance could change so they hold onto their money. FDR tried to get them to spend.

I like the old joke that defines a recession as when your neighbour loses his job and a depression as when you lose your job. The actual definitions are a bit more complicated. A recession is a decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for two or more consecutive quarters. A depression lasts for several years. However these definitions do not take into consideration changes in other factors like the unemployment rate or FDR’s concern, consumer confidence. Another point is that if you use quarterly information then you are never quite sure when a recession begins or ends. So a recession for nine months may not be considered a recession.

The problem with telling people to fear nothing and go and spend is that there are a lot of people who already have huge debt and you are making their problems worse. So I suppose the best advice is if you have the ability, keep the wheels of the economy lubricated and keep spending.

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Friday, 10 April 2009

Honesty Can Pay Voter Dividends

Blogs are great because others can read my opinion. I used to write to the papers to get my opinion across, but I have not written for a year or two as I got out of the habit of writing and then blogs took over. However I wrote to the local Morecambe Guardian newspaper last week and it was published today. What inspired me was a leaflet pushed through my door, and I am making the letter today's blog. The title was added by the editor. Some people make big decisions, but they are influenced by others and they can't be influenced by you unless you tell them.

You may like to read this along with last week's blog about independent politicians. Here is the letter.

Honesty Can Pay Voter Dividends

I received a political leaflet through my door this week that criticised Lancaster Council because Labour and Conservatives had worked together. It went on to personally criticise an individual Tory. In my experience the public do not hold politicians in high esteem precisely because they may insult each other and because they don’t work together. This leaflet seems to me to vindicate this view.

There will always be pros and cons to every political decision, and each politician will have his or her own ideas about the best way forward. Politicians may not always agree with their closest colleagues, and sometimes they will find themselves in the same camp as their opponents. Take for example the recent vote on whether to keep the Dome open. The Guardian listed those councillors who had voted for and against closure, and it appeared to me ironic that the only party that had voted en bloc were the Independents.

Take another example, the decision to create a Morecambe Council. There is an advantage because it allows another level of political participation but the disadvantage is that it comes at a cost. This leaflet took all the credit for the Council but also asked for candidates. Have they thought it through? Another level of government requires another level of governors, and clearly the Independent group needs more candidates. Is there an appetite for this election? Not recognising the cons, taking all the credit for council decisions with a minority of councillors, and public criticism of individual politicians will do nothing for politics in general. On a positive note I find that local politicians do work with the best motives, and a vote for any of the major parties would not be wasted.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

G20 Protest

The police officer who struck Ian Tomlinson has come forward. Let's give the officer the benefit of the doubt and say that he did not know that he needed to come forward. The television reports are quite restrained, but basically Mr Tomlinson was walking slowly, hands in pockets near to a line of policemen during the G20 protests when he was struck by a baton and pushed over.

I presume that the inquiry will consider whether the police attack is related to his death minutes later and it should look at the amount of force used and how much provocation was given. The footage that has been seen on TV comes from The Guardian and I am old enough to remember the TV adverts for The Guardian which basically said don't take things for granted. What looks like a yob attacking someone may turn out to be their saviour. Looking at one or two clips of video may not give a full story.

From the footage that was seen, the police officer was wearing a balaclava. Again, let's give the police the benefit of the doubt, balaclavas may be part of police uniform. However there is cause for concern if there are no other means of identifying this officer. Why do the police wear their numbers? The answer is simple. They keep their name anonymous but may be identified. I am not concerned with the amount of violence or the police tactics, although I may be if the inquiry is concerned. Tactics and the levels of violence may have been legitimate. My concerns are that we are training our police to act anonymously for acts that may be indefensible.

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Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Who should go to university?

I was watching Question Time last week and one question was about funding for university students. The Government has an aim to get 50% of young people into university. I suppose that they feel that if half of our young people get to university then this is a sign of higher educational standards. Also university life is a great experience. If you have more people who participate in student life then you have more people with this great experience.

The opposite view is that universities are places of academic excellence, and 50% of our student population are not academically excellent. Someone has to pay for university training and the quote that I remember from last week is that we produce more qualified photographers per year than are required in the whole of Europe in total. Doctors would simply not allow this to happen in their profession. A few years ago there was a shortage of physiotherapists. New schools of physiotherapy were opened and qualified numbers increased but to say the least, the number of NHS jobs was slow to follow, and very many therapists struggled for jobs. Vocational places should relate to vocational need. Let's not train people to a very high standard so that they can sign on.

Let’s also not have targets for targets sake. Our educational system should allow our youth to be taught to the best of their ability. It should not be based on allowing students to have a nice three years, and it shouldn’t be based on allowing the rich to pursue their interests regardless of ablilty, along with the less rich who may be quite able but end up with huge debts. The result is that we all end up with a debt culture.

Change the world.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Stay on the straight and narrow

If something happened in the past and you agree with it then you can quote it forever. If something happened in the past and you disagree with it then it is outdated. It is passé. On the eve of invading Poland it was reported that Hitler said "Go, kill without mercy. After all, who remembers the Armenians?" His point was that some of his soldiers may have had doubts about the integrity of his orders. Hitler is saying that history is written by the victors. Go and win this war and Germany is right and Poland is wrong.

If you take two people you will have two opinions or at least two variations of the same opinion. We all think differently. It is the same in politics at any level including decisions made by Hitler. I used a Margaret Thatcher quote last time to highlight that you may not agree with all her comments. Margaret Thatcher may have been our best leader at the time. She may have been the worst. What is important is that we have a means to question decisions in order to keep our decision makers on the straight and narrow.

Change the world

Monday, 6 April 2009

Obvious decisions are usually right

I have a strong memory of watching the the TV programme in which Margaret Thatcher was asked about the sinking of the Belgrano. Her answer was that it was a 'danger to our shipping', despite being outside the exclusion zone and heading away from our shipping. It was great television to see her on the ropes but she bounced back and was voted into government again and again.

The definition of paranoia includes excessive anxiety (I don't know if Margaret Thatcher was anxious but she should have been). It also includes feelings of persecution and delusion. After this interview her relations with the BBC were never quite the same. I wonder if she felt persecuted when she was doing a wonderful job for the country? Also I never worked out how the Belgrano was a danger to us. However Mrs Thatcher was seen as a strong leader who defended our country well, not as a leader with paranoid delusions.

Look out for the obvious in politics and be ready to question your politicians. Ships may still be sunk but sometimes obvious decisions will be made.

Change the world

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Every man for himself

There is a common theme among my political blogs that is to participate in politics, and there is a quote which supports participation: "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." If you feel this motivates you to take part in politics then that is great, but you also need to know the difference between good and evil.

Margaret Thatcher famously said that there was no such thing as society. Is everyman for himself a 'good' vision? On the other hand the American dream allows citizens to pursue their goals in life and some can become very successful. The word civilisation is a very broad term that can be applied to modern societies, but these societies claim the title by looking after those in poor health, by providing an education service and a safety net for those in need. It also means that we have organisations that provide public services that would not be profitable in private hands.

I don't think Margaret Thatcher would want to be remembered for a lack of compassion. I am sure that she would like to be remembered as a strong leader who caused the country to prosper. Whatever your view, she did divide public opinion. Was she the 'marmite' of politicians.

Change the world.

Saturday, 4 April 2009


In some areas there are also ‘independents’, though they aren't always as independent as their label would suggest. One problem where there is a group of independents is that they may have no coherent voice, each one pulling in a different direction. Sometimes, though, they are too coherent, with one strong individual imposing his or her notions on the group. They may be little more than a single-issue group set up by a person with a bee in their bonnet about that one issue. The same things can happen with local branches of national political parties of course, but it's far less likely because the national parties usually have defined and well-known stances on many issues.

The real problem with independents is that there's nothing about the label, 'independent', which would suggest their actual stance on any issue, or their location on the political spectrum. You’d have to check that out for yourself, and it's a case of "caveat emptor" - buyer beware. Despite this caveat, if your local independent group is closest to your beliefs then join them and be active.

Change the world

Friday, 3 April 2009

Why do we need gimmicks to vote?

How do you get people to vote? Should Election Day be moved to the weekend? Should we encourage postal votes or voting at the supermarket? Should we allow voting from home over the internet?

In my experience older voters are more likely to use their vote than younger voters. There is an apathy caused by Labour and Conservative policies converging, but this convergence of Labour and Conservative doesn't stop them from having good people as members, of course, and depending on your own political inclinations you might find yourself at home with either of them. Even a person with more radical inclinations might join them, seeing their conversion to a more radical agenda as a challenge. But it's usually best to find a group you can happily agree with and work with, rather than take that challenge.

The best way to avoid apathy is to get involved yourself. Electronic votes or voting in the supermarket are gimmicks. Use your vote because you can make a difference.

Change the world

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Always use your vote

When I was at school I remember going through the history of achieving universal franchise in the United Kingdom. I was taught about rotten boroughs that returned MPs to Westminster but they only had a dozen or so people on the register. There was no secret ballot and no great objections to MPs buying votes. We have come a long way in order to get our universal franchise. There are a few people who still can't vote but the vast majority of men and women does have the right to vote.

I meet people who are disillusioned with politics and politicians and they tell me that they have stopped voting. I read that many younger people do not use their right to vote. There are also those who recognise the hard fight to gain a universal franchise and to maintain it. We criticise dictatorships but our system is causing less and less people to vote despite people who have died to extend the right to vote, notably the suffragettes and those who have died to beat dictators, notably Hitler.

If anyone says that they are all as bad as each other tell them to use their vote even if it is to spoil the vote. It sends a strong message to politicians that they need to improve their act. Even better, tell the cynics to stand for election, after all, who is better than that individual to make political decisions.

Change the world

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Make all MPs' expenses public

It can't be right that an MP can claim expenses for watching (or a member of the family watching) a film regardless of the content at that film. Now that I have admitted that Jacqui Smith's position is indefensible I am going to offer some support. MPs need to be informed. They need access to broadband and they may even need a knowledge of popular culture in all its forms. As power corrupts MPs need a check on their ability to spend our money, and someone has to do that job.

I believe that the vast majority of expense claims are honest. Honest may not be the right word but the vast majority of these expenses may well fall within the limits of the regulations. I say that honest may not be the right word because if I am told that I can buy a television for say £400, then there is a good chance that I will buy one for £400. I will not buy a cheaper model, I would not go to a discount retailer and haggle. I would not spend time going to different shops and comparing the prices.

What really concerns me is the process by which every detail of my expenses got to the press. What entitles them to know that I have a specific television or a specific broadband distributor? The reason that this kind of detail is now published on Jacqui Smith, is because it was leaked. With evidence mounting, it must have been tempting to leak information if what they thought were corrupt practices were discovered.

However the leak should be a bigger story than the expenses because it is so selective. The Tories could all be bigger players of the system than any Labour MP, and we will never know it if we rely on selective leaks from someone with an anti-Labour grudge. If other parties are going to exploit the information in such leaks, they should call for all the details of everybody's expenses to be made public.

Change the world.