Saturday, 31 October 2009

Grown-up drugs debate

Many years ago I took a course with the Open University called Health and Disease. One of the things that I remember from the course is that aspirin is a powerful drug and if it had been discovered today then it would only be available on prescription. There are obvious social factors in how we legalisise our drugs. Many of the illegal drugs were once legal and many drugs, even though they are legal like alcohol are much more harmful than legal ones.

Today Professor David Nutt has been sacked by the government. He was an advisor. In fact he was head of the Advisory council on the Misuse of Drugs. Part of his advice was that he felt the govenment was wrong for reclassifying cannabis from a class C to classB drug. This is the same person who has also claimed that "taking ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse". Perhaps an open debate on risk should include some sports and hobbies that we would not consider dangerous. The NHS has to deal with riding injuries just as it does with the misuse of drugs.

There is a risk of death with ecstasy. The Daily Mail will tell you that, but how many lives could have been saved if it were legal? How does this compare with alcohol related deaths? I am not condoning the use of illegal drugs but there is a social context that allows more harmful drugs to be legal. When this is pointed out by an advisor it turns out that the advice is not wanted so he gets the sack. Let's have a grown-up debate.

Change the world.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Safety nets and disablity

When you have a safety net you get a poverty trap. That means that if you have a benefit then someone who doesn't quite fit the requirements for the benefit will have to work hard to get a similar amount to someone who is not employed. In fact they may get less because they have to pay to get to and from work.

There are other benefits that may not even have a financial gain but have a similar trap. If you have a disabled badge you can park in places that others can't. I have seen someone park in a disabled spot and walk their dog around a park. I also see very large and expensive 4x4 vehicles in disabled parking places. It may be that disability benefit allows people to drive a more expensive car but there is a certain irony that a disabled badge goes with a vehicle for which you need a certain level of fitness.

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Thursday, 29 October 2009

One rule for one

In 2006 14 people died because a Nimrod crashed in Afghanistan. The plane should not have been flying but safety concerns were secondary to financial targets. Obviously this is a tragedy of the highest order and to admit that finance is the root cause must be hard for everyone who was involved.

How many times do we say in our home that we will make do. Many domestic fires are caused by old electrical equipment. Do we know the age of the wiring in our house and the hidden dangers behind our walls?

There is a big difference between an old electric blanket and a business that knows of serious danger and continues to ask its employees to take a risk - especially when that employee has no choice but to follow orders. If an individual does not have the correct certificates for their domestic wiring then they can face legislation. I wonder which legislation is facing the government.

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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

New roads in Europe

Have you travelled through northern Spain? There is a new road that takes you across the country in a fraction of the time it took prior to this road. It is a feat of civil engineering spanning several estuaries. I understand that Ireland's infrastructure and economy have been transformed by new roads. People tell me that roads are transforming the whole of Europe and they also tell me that funding has come from Europe.

There is a trend to improve transport to benefit individuals, companies and the economy. A couple of days ago I wrote about the opposition to the Morecambe link road. While the rest of Europe celebrates its new roads we tend to complain. There are genuine reasons to complain as long as you are prepared for European money to go to the rest of Europe and not here, and as long as you are prepared for your economy to fall behind the rest of Europe.

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Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Blame the side that obstructs arbitration

I live fairly close to the centre of Great Britain. If you count the islands then it is Dunsop Bridge and if you don't count them it is Whalley. So if I wanted to set up a private postal business then it may be good to start from this area. However you may find that most of your business comes from the cities and there is not so much to send to the islands. If I am asked to deliver a parcel to a Scottish island then it is going to cost me a lot more than sending one to Manchester. Now times are hard so I can either put the price up for Scotland or I can subsidise it. But times are very hard so I decide to confine my business to the cities.

A private postal service is bound to have an advantage over the Royal Mail. They will choose the profitable services and leave the letters that are sent up farm tracks. Royal Mail is on a loser and times have to change. There has to be modernisation. but it is the role of the union to look after its members and to get the best terms and conditions of employment. That's what management has to do and that's what the unions have to do.

Strikes are not an easy option but if there is a breakdown in communication and a strike is called then it isn't the fault of one side. There seems to be a lot of one-sided criticisms in this dispute. It should be easy to discover why ACAS are not involved so let's blame the side that are obstructing arbitration.

Change the world

Monday, 26 October 2009

Morecambe to the motorway and beyond

Is traffic a problem everywhere? I drove to the other side of Lancaster today (Sunday 25th October) and many routes were impassable. I was reminded of one person who told me that he thought the traffic between Morecambe and Lancaster was as bad as anywhere outside London. However since the congestion charge he reckoned our traffic was the worst anywhere. Today I was very lucky and the route that I took only added ten minutes to my journey. Others were stuck for a lot longer. This problem is not unusual here as it occurs every single day at rush hour and at many other less predictable times.

So how do you deal with this problem? It has been going on for years and Lancaster is in the fortunate position of being next in line for a link road from Morecambe to the M6. Unfortunately there are many objectors. The objections are also many. They include objections to the route as there is a NIMBY and an environmental factor and there are also people who still wish to argue that an alternative route to the M6 should be chosen even though this was rejected years ago. It is easy to counter a NIMBY argument. I would even argue against the environmental arguments because traffic jams aren't good for the environment.

Other people emphasise the fact that the link road will make little difference to the traffic through Lancaster. This is a good point. Traffic has been increasing over the years so maybe we don't need a crystal ball to see that it will continue to increase. Maybe in the long term we won't travel in cars at all and the link road will not be needed but in the short and medium term we will not be moving quickly from Morecambe to the motorway. Even this good point does not deal with the link road doing what it says on the tin and getting the people of Morecambe to the motorway so in fact this argument is misleading.

Let's have better public transport. Let's have park and ride schemes. Let's encourage the use of bikes. Let's have people work near where they live. Let's have lots of other things too which help our environment but if you live in Morecambe wouldn't it be nice to use a link road to actually link to the motorway.

The short and medium term alternatives for anyone from Morecambe or any Morecambe business that has to use the motorway is move away from Morecambe. This is not a good conclusion for Morecambe so I hope we get the link road asap. I wonder if the town council sees things the same way!

Change the world

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Why do we change the clocks?

Today is a significant day in our calendar because the clocks go back and Greenwich mean time will soon be with us. I post blogs at five past midnight so it hasn't started yet but we all have to change our clocks and watches if we haven't done so already. So why do we change the hours?

British summer time is also known as daylight saving time and it is to give more time in the summer evenings for people to socialise. Winston Churchill was in favour of BST. He thought that it increases "the opportunities for the pursuit of health and happiness among the millions of people who live in this country". There are other reasons why we change the hours that include protecting our children because they go to school and get home in daylight hours.

Another reason that we change the hour is because the cows have to milked and daylight is much better for this. It is also said that the number of deaths on the road is decreased because of the change in the hour.

Well there must be a better answer. Nowadays the "pursuit of health and happiness" is not affected by the hour change. People go to gyms and sports stadia and they all have artificial lighting. The nation's greatest pastime, shopping is now all day and all night. Children soon come home in the dark and this obviously doesn't work in the depths of winter or even when we have exceptional bad weather. If we were really concerned about the safety of our children caused by the dangers of darkness then school hours should be seasonal.

I am not sure about the evidence for deaths on the road but it strikes me that the more obvious answer is to do with improving rush hours rather than change our clocks. As for the cows this must be the most ludicrous reason for change - they can't tell the time!

Change the world

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Exposing the BNP

"Nick Griffin was bullied. David Dimbleby was a disgrace. Members of the public have been persuaded by BNP policies". These were some of the views expressed on Radio 5 immediately after Question Time. The majority view was that Nick Griffin came off badly in the debate. He gave confused answers and his bigotry was exposed.

Other criticisms of the programme were that too much time was taken up with the BNP but compare this with criticisms that their policies were not discussed. I was interested to hear a little more on policy on the radio. The BNP councillor is a Leeds fan and felt the example of foreign footballers playing for Leeds was an extreme example of immigration policy. When pressed on the issue, because football is a business like any other, he was willing to concede that footballers could come over for five years as long as they went back. I'm not sure where five years comes from but can we now presume that five years applies to architects, doctors, entertainers and cleaners?

So did the BNP come off well or were they exposed as racists? I think that BNP supporters have a further vehicle to support their views. They'll claim that they must be a mainstream party because they have been on Question Time. However, the fact that discussion totally avoided pressing issues such as the economy, on which the BNP has nothing to say, shows how far from the mainstream the BNP actually is; and those who oppose the BNP have more ammunition to attack their non-mainstream racist policies. With all the exposure in the world there will still be racists around so they will vote for the party with racist policies.

Change the world

Friday, 23 October 2009

Wrong end of the stick

I saw the protest as Nick Griffin entered TV Centre. The organiser of the protest was possibly arrested but he was definitely taken away by the police. So the BBC interviewed a London Labour MP. I missed his first couple of sentences but then he said he wanted to keep the British way of life which is about tolerance, equality and freedom for all. I thought he wanted to support Nick Griffin but he was definitely protesting.

He said that these types of ideologies should not be encouraged or supported. I agree with that but the BBC's role is to represent the views of our democracy and not to drive people underground. If the BNP break the law then they should face the consequences. What right do the BBC have to suppress their views? The answer is obviously none and this undermines the Labour MPs argument. I am sure Nick Griffin will expose this bigotry. He is a very clever man but the main point should be whether his bigotry can be exposed.

Change the world

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The evils of smoking

There are some repeat comedy programmes on television and my favourite is Fawlty Towers. I am also enjoying The Royle Family and in tonight's episode Denise was talking about Baby David. "He only tipped a full ashtray over himself". This isn't too funny but it is the attitude of the whole family that progresses the humour. Dave added that they took a photo and "it was a belter".

This made me think about the court case last week in which a man was sentenced to 18 months for allowing his child to smoke. I am not a smoking fan and his actions sound reckless rather than funny. He was caught because the child had been filmed smoking on a mobile phone. I don't know the details of this case but it made me consider the numbers of similar incidents that have not resulted in a prison sentence either because it wasn't filmed or because the film wasn't handed to the police.

The added complication is that the Royle family have made jokes about children and tobacco and because of that I am guessing that some people think imprisonment is a bit harsh. I am also guessing that in the past the sentence would not have involved prison. In the future I wonder if a photo of a child with an unlit cigarette could result in imprisonment.

Change the world

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Watch for the rebellion

David Cameron has changed his mind about all-women selection lists for parliamentary candidates. Now he thinks that they are a good thing and will impose them on some constituencies. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind. It may be seen as a sign of strength but it certainly needs a good explanation to convince anyone that it was bad then but is good now.

Positive discrimination is carried out all the time. Politics is about the redistribution of wealth because if the market is left to itself then the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. The welfare state is all about positive discrimination. So what is wrong with positive discrimination for selecting parliamentary candidates? Firstly this move says that women don't win because life is biased towards men. I think gender is not a factor in making good politicians and so needs no discrimination. If women don't choose to put themselves forward then they will not get selected but the best person should be selected regardless of gender. Secondly it is an imposition from central office. A liberal alternative is to devolve decision-making as per the Eric Pickles blog on Monday.

At the last general election it was heartening to see the result from Blaenau Gwent. Tell locals what they can and cannot do and rebellion occurs.

Change the world

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Football can learn from rugby

What does it take to bring respect back to football referees? Commonly football crowds will chant abuse at referees. Commentators will take a close look at replays from several camera angles and then say the referee was definitely wrong. Managers often feel justified in saying that the referee's decisions were awful, and now Alex Ferguson is in the news for criticising Alan Wiley's fitness.

What Alex really means is that he doesn't like decisions going against his team. You just don't hear about managers complaining when they have won. If you only hear complaints from the losers then you have to feel that these complaints are biased and then you have to question everything that is said by managers. Managers, supporters and footballers alike are obviously biased. Commentators appear unbiased but their search for the truth makes them forget that referees are fallible. I find it hard to distinguish the detailed explanation of errors from the referees from the abusive chants from the supporters or the high profile complaints of managers.

What it means is that we get Sunday footballers and even children who don't think twice about abusing referees. The answer is simple. Praise the good decisions and don't allow adverse criticism. The referee is always right in rugby and nobody complains.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Eric Pickles lets down the liberal vote

The people of Macclesfield now have a Tory candidate for the next election. The problem for the Conservatives is that according to the BBC’s Politics Show, their system did not allow for a local candidate and the blame lies firmly with Conservative Central Office. They interviewed Andy Lea, the ex-treasurer of the local party who had been involved in the selection process. According to Andy Eric Pickles told him that a local candidate would not be allowed because it would "disadvantage the other candidates"! Central Office claims that the Macclesfield members organised their own short-list. I know who I believe.

You may remember that Eric Pickles recently appealed to Liberal Democrats to vote Conservative by saying "give us your votes and we will never let you down". At the Macclesfield selection process according to Andy, he barred the local candidate with the words "I have the power to make this decision. My decision is final". Well Eric you just let the Liberal vote down. Your local members could not even be trusted to organise a short-list of candidates.

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Sunday, 18 October 2009

How are decisions made at county council?

I tried to comment on speed limits a couple of days ago and was sidetracked by the BNP so I'll try again. I decided a few years ago that a 40mph on Broadway in Morecambe was too high. This followed a survey of all the houses. Some people thought the 40mph limit was alright. Others told me it was too high. Some people told me that they regularly saw people breaking the speed limit and others told me that they never saw anything.

The crunch comment was when a policeman told me that he stopped a vehicle for speeding near Broadway and the driver's excuse was that he thought it was 40mph like Broadway. Not only have drivers lost their sense of breaking the law at 40mph but they use Broadway as an excuse on other roads.

So the police have agreed to lower the speed limit. The county council should be dealing with it but it has taken years to get anything done. I think the council agrees with the lowering of the limit. The council changed in June so maybe the decision will be reversed. It makes you wonder how any decsions are made at the county council.

Change the world

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Will the unions reciprocate?

Whilst commenting on the possibility of a strike from postal workers, Peter Mandelson described it as almost like a death wish by the unions. As far as I can see it is about communication (no pun intended) between Royal Mail management and the unions. I am not sure why Peter puts the blame fairly and squarely with the unions.

The unions are resisting change. That is what unions do, and they also fight for the best terms and conditions for their members. They don't want jobs lost and an attack on their integrity from Mr Mandelson will not go down well.

I thought that the Labour Party was the party of the unions. Does this union support the Labour Party? Will it do so again? Is there any difference between the Conservatives and New Labour? It will be interesting to see the reaction to his comments. We have seen the Labour Party reposition itself in relation to the unions. Now I wonder if the unions will reciprocate.

Change the world

Friday, 16 October 2009

It sounds racist to me

I was going to write about my road in Morecambe and cars breaking the speed limit, but I have just seen the 6pm news (15th October) on the BBC. The BNP has been told to open its doors to non-whites and Chris Roberts, a spokesperson for the party was interviewed. He said "the fundamental beliefs of our party and our core beliefs will never change", to which the reporter asked "will it remain a racist party?" There was then a very strange reply. "If you can explain to me what racist means then I'll tell you if we are".

I don't think it is difficult to define racism. How about discrimination based on race? How about believing that one race is superior to another? How about abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race? If you asked me to leave the country but did not ask my neighbour because of the colour of my skin then I would call that aggressive behaviour based on race. Why are the BNP shy of calling themselves racists?

If racism had been defined, the BNP spokesmen usually go on the offensive and list other organisations that may face this criticism. Please don't post any replies to say that other groups are racist. Let's stick to the BNP and save other groups for other posts. At the moment it is Nick Griffin who will have to recommend to his members that they support a new consitution that isn't racist. I agree with Chris Roberts but only in the sense that the constitution may change but racist beliefs will remain within his party.

The BNP's contitution has a section on membership that states that the party is only open to people from certain white ethnic groups with examples like the "Celtic Irish Folk Community" or the "Anglo-Saxon-Norse Community". It sounds racist to me.

Change the world

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Promote public transport

I don't know if ambulances may use bus lanes. I do know when they are speeding and one overtook me in the bus lane a couple of evenings ago. I think that our sense of obeying the rules of the road is a little vague. Why do we make cars that go faster than 70mph? I know the answer is that people can drive faster on Autobahns or on private land but we don't.

There are people who accidentally exceed speed limits but there are people who abuse the privilege of driving. We have the technology so why don't we have the political will to stop these drivers? The driving lobby is powerful but if we want to promote more economical and environmentally friendly methods of transport then we really have to change hearts and minds and we will onlyh do this when it is cheaper for individuals to travel by public transport.

Car sharing is one answer that would make it less likely for us to convert to public transport but if we are car sharing then we are well on the way to saving the earth. Wouldn't it be nice to think that public transport was cheaper than two people travelling by car to the same destination. I think we have a long way to go.

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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Nothing is fair in the expenses scandal

MPs are angry and some are considering legal action because Sir Thomas Legg has applied retrospective limits on the amounts that MPs can claim for their second home. The problem is that the MPs had no limits and it was their scheme. They have to take responsibility for an inadequate method of dealing with allowances.

It must have seemed strange to MPs who were new to allowances. "So I can buy a new sink? Any sink? At any price?" Who checked on the need for a new sink in the first place? Without limits there is no reason why any request would not receive payment. It was a ludicrous system and you can't help think that it is part of a gravy train.

Ann Widdecombe said she thought Sir Thomas's requests were legally questionable. The problem is that the whole process is morally questionable and this is claer to the public. The reason why the scandal is dragging on and undermining our political system is because the politicians want it to drag on. They may think that the rules have unfairly changed but there was nothing fair about it in the first place. The sooner they realise it the better.

Change the world

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Ed Balls as clear as mud

A few months ago I heard about the new Vetting and Barring scheme which is to be implemented at some time this month. It is to do with volunteers and making sure that there is some kind of check on them as an additional means of security following the Soham murders. We have in place a few checks already for people in employment but with voluteers there were stories going round that groups of parents could not have agreements with each other to take their children to organised activities.

I was told a couple of days ago that parents could have agreements without having checks. I looked it up and it is when these parents work voluntarily for an organisation that they must comply with the new legislation.

Then I saw the news today (12th October). Ed Balls wants "to make clear that reciprocal childcare arrangements between parents where there is no payment involved should not be a matter for regulation" and "I have agreed today with Ofsted that with immediate effect, this will be beyond the scope of their childcare inspections and will make this crystal clear by changing the regulations in the coming period."

Now things are not crystal clear to me. If the arrangements were not with parents but with friends or relatives then I now presume that Ofsted will look for this in their inspection. If this is "with immediate effect" does this mean that it was different yesterday? It sounds like things were not clear previously and I don't think things have improved.

Change the world

Monday, 12 October 2009

Apologies but no repayment

Jacqui Smith has been told to apologise in the House of Commons because of her participation in the MPs' expenses scandal. So if she has to apologise she must have done something wrong, but she has not been told to repay any money. We are not dealing with tens or hundreds of pounds but thousands of pounds. It was Jacqui Smith who decided that her second home was the one with her family and thereby gained a lot of money.

The system was not fair and for all I know it still is. By taking part in this unfairness many of the public have associated this with corruptness. Well some MPs have claimed for non-existant mortgages and when some MPs lie to get extra money it is easy to use the word corrupt.

That is why when Jacqui Smith is asked to apologise and not repay money then the public will think that little has been done. Let's see what happens.

Change the world

Saturday, 10 October 2009

NHS divisions based on wealth

A couple of days ago I heard someone giving an answer to the present economic crisis. She thought we could all buy our meals if we are taken into hospital. This seems fairly reasonable at first glance but I have several reservations. Firstly it does next to nothing to beat the financial crisis. I hear you saying look after the pennies... but here we are looking for the tiniest fraction of a penny. You certainly would not bend down to pick this amount up in the street.

That leads me to my second point. If you only have a small charge then the cost of colllection may not even account for the cost of the meals, so you would not save anything. However my major concern is that some people do count the pennies and cannot afford to go into hospital if meals have to be paid for. Ah but they would have a safety net and this means that the cost of implementing a system of charging for meals has just gone up.

Our NHS was founded on the guiding principle that it was free at the point of access. The more little charges that you have then the more it affects the poor. The Black Report highlighted the division of care between the rich and the poor. We should heed this report and look to improve the health of the poor.

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Friday, 9 October 2009

Political Gimmicks

Gen Sir Richard Dannatt is to become a defence adviser to the Tories. It is good to have professional advice but is it right that a serving army officer should be making political statements? I remember well that he was asking for more troops and equipment, but others were saying that they didn't need more. If he has a political axe to grind then his judgement is impaired.

I particularly enjoyed the comment from the shadow home secretary Chris Grayling who misheard a question about General Dannatt and replied that he hoped it was not a political gimmick and it's all about PR. He is always suspicious of the government's motives. As it happens to be a Tory appointment he is really enthusiastic about it. I find it really hard to think of the question that he thought he heard without causing embarassment to the Conservative Party.

The General is entitled to his political views (in private). His public views should be restricted to advising politicians which do not include derogatory statements. The gimmick of course is that he has shown his political colours whilst serving as an officer in the army. I am not sure if this is grounds for dismissal but I hope disciplinary procedures are deemed necessary. The alternative is that all soldiers question their raison d’ĂȘtre. If there is one place where discipline is necessary then surely it is in the armed forces. If you are one of its members then your duty is to follow orders and political opinions must be left to the politicians. There are some people who do not agree with this statement but they go on to form military juntas.

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Thursday, 8 October 2009

The liberal Conservatives

Eric Pickles called for Liberal Democrats to join the Conservatives as they are the party concerned with civil liberties and climate change. Eric said "give us your votes and we will never let you down". This is from a conference in which policy is announced to the members. This from a party whose strings are pulled by big business. This from a party that doesn't understand the meaning of a fair voting system. Dress a pig up in many constituencies and they get elected. Eric will have to realise this if he is to understand the meaning of a fair voting system.

As for Conservative policy being announced to members, I thought it was particularly instructive the way Boris Johnson was caught out by his boss's latest U-turn on a Euro-referendum.
'
"If Tony Blair is going to be president of Europe I want a referendum on the matter and a lot of people will agree with me," the mayor of London told the Mail on Sunday. This appeared to set him at odds with Cameron as this referendum would have to be held once the treaty has entered EU law. Johnson and Cameron later claimed there was no rift between them. The mayor is understood to have thought that he was toeing the party line because Cameron has, until now, declined to clarify what he will do if the Lisbon treaty is ratified by all 27 EU member states.'


If the Mayor of London can't know what the policy is until it disseminates from the leader, what chance have the ordinary Conservative rank and file?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Referendum for the Lisbon Treaty

David Cameron doesn't want any country to ratify the Lisbon Treaty including the final two countries. Unfortunately all the other countries already have ratified it. Are you starting to think that David Cameron is in a minority? Even in his party there is a split. Eurosceptics are asking for a commitment to a referendum. He won't give it.

I had thought about asking a dozen or so people whether they would vote for a referendum in Britain on the Lisbon treaty but after asking four times I gave up. Nobody knows about this treaty, so let me explain.

If we want to work with neighbouring countries on matters that concern us all then we need a mechanism to do so. The current arrangements were made when there were 15 countries and now there are 27 so we need new arrangements, hence the treaty. It includes a section that shows a commitment to principles like freedom and justice. It paves the way for a permanent president and an EU foreign minister, and there are some changes like the way vetoes work.

The question should not be whether we want a referendum on the management of procedures within the EU. Most people don't have insight into the mechanisms of European government. If we do want to have a referendum it should be concerned with our membership. There are a lot of people who feel we should not be part of the EU. They don't care about details of the Lisbon Treaty. They just want to vote no to Europe. So why not have a referendum on EU membership?

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Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Natural homes for Conservatives

Do you want to work an extra year before you retire? This is the proposal from the Conservatives who are, according to Eric Pickles, the party of civil liberties. They are also the party that will get people off benefits and back to work. If you have your own story of unemployment then you will realise that life is not black and white, for example if you have any skill whatsoever you may find that it is difficult to get work in your field. Are the Tories really saying they want brain surgeons to work at McDonalds? Pick your own example of skilled worker and unskilled work.

A few problems arise when you make headlines about people cheating the system. Firstly they are saying that people on benefits are spongers. If some people are cheating the system and getting paid allowances to which they are not entitiled then there are already processes by which these people may be caught. It may be necessary to tighten up these procedures but by making these headlines the Tories, the party of the rich, are stigmatising everyone on benefits and those working to police the system.

They are also proposing that the retirement age will increase from 65 to 66. Well thanks for that. When I was a teenager in the 70s I was supposed to be retiring at 50 because of North Sea oil. With this proposal we will save vast amounts on pension but who are the real winners. Of course the answer is the rich who can retire whenever they wish without resorting to a state pension.

When Eric Pickles tells us that the Conservatives are the natural party for members of every other party then it is definitely time that he looked at policy differences, how the party is funded, how he views a fair voting system and many other points that need a few more blogs. The only natural home for Conservatives who wish to be told their policies at conference is the Conservative Party.

Change the world

Monday, 5 October 2009

Emphasise tax loopholes not cutting benefits

Yesterday's blog pointed out that insurance for care homes is really significant for the poor and really not significant for the rich. Well done to the Conservatives for supporting the rich. Today the headline is to cut benefits. Well you don't get rich on benefits and if you want to get a second opinion then ask any Tory MP. They can't live on the pittance they call an MP's wage.

It is really hard to take any lectures on poverty from people who can't live on the "rations" that are given to MPs. In previous blogs I have written that the motivation behind the words is more important than the words themselves, and it is headlines like "Tories spell out benefit cut plan" that make it clear which side their bread is buttered. Why don't they make headlines about closing tax loopholes for the rich.

The Rolling Stones manage to pay tax at 1.6%. How about that for everyone's tax payments.

Change the world.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Tories devise a worse home protection scheme

It is now the C0nservatives' turn for dishing out policy to their members. I did mention Gordon's announcements last week as he pushed policy onto the members. How would I like policy to be announced? That's easy. Let the members debate the pros and cons and then vote.

The first news that I have heard from the Tories is about financing residential care for the elderly without having to sell their homes. This is obviously good news because headlines are made when people sell their houses to pay for such homes. Well look a bit more at the Tory policy and I am afraid that it is fairly easy to pick holes in it. I will keep my comments brief.

A one-off charge of £8 000 will ensure free care in a home. This is based on the average use of a home of around two years and a cost of £52 000. There is one big difference between this rather crude insurance and those on offer at the moment. Presently the costs depend on age and health. If you have a chronic illness then you may need a care home for longer than two years and you are more likely to take up the Tory offer. If you are in good health then you are more likely to take a risk and not pay the £8k.

For those people with savings of less than £23 000 then they will not take up this safety net because they already have one and will already get free care. Of course the problem with safety nets is poverty traps. The people with £31k will not spend £8k because it will mean they fall into the second net. How much can they fritter away before they are pulled up about it? Can they go on nice holidays or buy a nice painting?

The real problem is the mess caused by the recession and the global economy, because we should be following the Scottish example. As in Scotland we should have a safety net of care homes without proviso and we should have no university tuition fees. I was thinking prior to these conferences that the only hope for a continued Labour government in Westminster is to back these options. Now we have a Conservative option which is useful for the rich, not the poor, and it is a scheme which is not as good as those we have at the moment.

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Saturday, 3 October 2009

Not a good advert for public transport

How do you devise an integrated transport system? Well the easiest answer is to watch Yes Minister and follow the dialogue. A longer answer is to think about how you want people to move around the country. If you think it is best to get people to buy and maintain their own vehicles, travel into the city centres, clog up the streets and then find a parking space then that is basically the system we have now. It has the advantage of giving freedom to individuals and this view will be supported by all car owners.

On the other hand, if you care about the earth's resources and want them used in an appropriate way, if you want to keep costs down, if you want to stop congestion and ease pollution then you need an integrated transport system.

Take the example of travelling round the country. If you offer passes that allow you to travel cheaply then you will use it. Get people onto public transport that is not being used to full capacity and it is a win-win-win situation for the individual for the transport company and for society. It's not too good for manufacturers of private vehicles but times will change anyway and cars have and will become more efficient.

In practice this is not happening. A Canadian relative and his friend are touring Europe and they are with us at the moment. They have bought their pass for French trains but it just wasn't worth it in Britain. This is not a good advert for our rail system and for our attitude towards public transport in general. I for one will continue to use my gas guzzler.

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Friday, 2 October 2009

Cut coats according to cloth

I don't think of myself as old, perhaps middle-aged, but not old. As you get older you see changes in society some of which are not good and it is not just reminiscing. At the moment I am thinking of our attitude to debt. My parents grew up with the idea that you saved for something and then bought it. Me too. Now we have this idea that we can enjoy life today and pay for it tomorrow.

Take, for example the private funding initiatives. It doesn't matter what kind of building it is. We can build schools or hospitals and nobody has to pay for it. Unfortunately they do. Even worse, we pay more for the privilege. It may look good to have a lot of new resources but we don't see the hidden costs. Well sometimes we do. My local Jessops camera shop closed last year.

In the Guardian (30/9/09) there is an article about Jessops. Control of this group has been handed over to the banks because of "unrealistic debt-fuelled growth" and Jessops is only the latest in a "string of loan casualties".

It doesn't matter whether it is personal debt caused by working hard for a degree. It doesn't matter if it government borrowing which may win votes but costs us more. It doesn't matter if it is corporate debt. Let's cut our coat according to our cloth.

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Thursday, 1 October 2009

Is it time to move to Scotland?

I write blogs each day and I publish them in the early hours of the following morning. So there has been 24 hours since I wrote yesterday's blog and I have had time to think about it. I cannot believe how gentle I was with Gordon's announcements about care homes. Alright I have a vested interest in that I am a deputy manager in a care home, but I am also in the privileged position to recognise the need for these homes. I also recognise that in the future we will have an increasing need for these homes. I am lucky in the sense that there is a waiting list for places in my home, so this is not a personal point but many others are not so lucky. I am not writing this blog to defend my home. It doesn't need defending. However we do have an ageing population and we have to move in the direction of supporting such homes as extra care will be needed.

Yesterday I emphasised the difference between Scotland and England. Today I want to emphasise the need for such homes. I presume that the announcement that those in greatest need will have free care at home means those in greatest financial need. If it means physical, social and psychological need then they will need a care home. So let's take it that Gordon meant financial need. What we will find is that if a care home is needed then more persuasion will be required. How do you take someone out of their house into a home where they may have to sell their house? Perhaps Gordon is not spending much and this headline-grabbing announcement actually means nothing. They may have no savings and no house to sell, but let's presume that it does mean something. Headlines will still be written about the elderly selling their homes in order to receive a place in a residential home.

I was sure that Labour's only hope of gaining some votes was to appeal to voters and put the English on a par with the Scottish. It may be time to move to Scotland.

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