Friday, 31 December 2010

Christmas trees brought to you by...

I took these photos in early December. Christmas had been going on prior to Bonfire Night and I mentioned yesteday how the logistics of putting up Christmas trees had a lot more to do with commerce than it did with Christmas. I read in today's paper that this particular tree in Lancaster is criticised in one letter because of the barriers and the adverts on those barriers. The author is correct. They look a mess.

What really took my attention was the reply from the Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce who provided funding and put up the adverts. They think that the barriers and signs could be better but the benefactors (I don't think benefactors is quite the right word but it will do) deserve recognition. And then there is a jibe at the author asking for their support next year.

So Christmas is about commerce. It's about recognition of commerce and it's about tacky adverts. I chose this angle in the photo on the right because it is just about the best view. There may well be more adverts now. There are other lights on other trees (and you can just see one on the left) that look really nice. Maybe next year we will know who sponsored them.

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Thursday, 30 December 2010

A happy November and December to you

I was listening to local radio yesterday and there was an interview with a council worker who put up and took down Christmas trees. It seems that all the trees for the Fylde come from Scotland. they are cut down months before Christmas and they are now being taken down. It takes months to put them up because there are so many of them.

If struck me that the trees were nothing to do with Christmas. We have some references to the actual 12 days in the Christmas song but "Christmas" for this person and for many others was totally commercial. For me the reason why the trees could not be put up in the Christmas period was because there were not enough council workers to put them up. I tend to get my tree up at the appropriate time, and I can take it down at the right time too.

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Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Trusting the people

Yesterday I wrote about political apathy because all votes are not equal in our present system and many will not vote because they see their vote as not counting. The obvious answer is to change the system but another idea has made the headlines. According to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12084525 "a plan to allow popular online petitions to be debated in Parliament within a year has been given the go-ahead by the government".

I have written previously about trying to reverse the decline in voter turnout by such things as changing the way we vote with the aid of technology. Perhaps changing the voting day from Thursday would be a good move, but the most important move would be to make sure that votes count. However if we can improve the democrativ process by involving members of the public in setting the Westminster agenda then my first reaction is that this has to be a good move.

A few years ago I read that a survey in Calafornia put the need for breast reconstruction (boob job) as a higher priority than hip replacements - one of the best surgical procedures you can imagine. You can't trust the people all the time but my instinct is that the public generally get things right and we should be listening.

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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

We need to change the voting system

Almost everyone is entitled to vote. There are a few exceptions and one that I discussed recently is whether prisoners should be allowed to vote. if you divide the number of those who vote by the number who are allowed to vote and then multiply by 100 you get the voter turnout percentage. This figure improved a litte at the general election this year. It improved to 65% but generally the voter turnout has been declining in the last few decades.

One reason for this is that our votes don't usually matter. I have never known an election won by one vote. There will be many other reasons why people don't vote. Some may genuinely forget that they have to go down to the polling station. Others may genuinely not want any of the candidates to get elected. Some will cast their vote by spoiling it. "None of the above" may be their first choice. whatever the reason, the lower turnout damages the legitimacy of the government and is a sign that politicians are failing to connect with the electorate. If this failure to connect gets worse we may have riots in the streets and bishops calling for legitimate protests. Oh we already have.

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Monday, 27 December 2010

Anyone want to support FPTP?

Tactical voting is when you don't vote for the person or party that you want to win, but you vote for someone else in order that your least favourite candidate doesn't get in. You only find this type of voting when you have a first-past-the-post system. If there is a two-horse race then if you prefer the third of even fourth placed party you are going to waste your vote. In fact there is a strong argument that says if you vote for anyone other than the winner then your vote is wasted.

On this basis most people will waste their vote. Elections are won and lost in the marginal constituencies and this means that the vast majority of the electorate are almost wasting their time by voting. It also means that someone with a bit of money can distort our democracy. This is one factor in the declining number of voters but what tactical voting meant in 2001 and 2005 is that Liberal Democrats voted for Labour when they thought Labour could beat the Tory, and Labour votes went to Liberal Democrat candidates if they had a chance.

So not only are the number of voters declining but most people waste their vote. On top of that you can't tell who they really want to vote for anyway. Does anyone want to support FPTP?

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Sunday, 26 December 2010

Let's slow down

On Monday I wrote about the devastation caused by the weather according to one reporter. My view is that we need to put things in perspective and a delay in a journey of an hour or two is not particularly devastating. On Wednesday one of my sons came home for Christmas. He made the journey from Chester to Morecambe and it took him an hour or so longer than usual. He told me that there were scenes of panic when a slight delay was announced and when one train was five minutes late a long queue developed to ask why.

When I was in London a couple of weeks ago I used the Underground and you stand on the right on the escalators in order to let people walk up them. Most people were in a rush! I don't know why because I never had to wait more than five minutes for a train. They were running for the sake of running.

If these examples are commonplace then I think we all need to relax a little more. I am writing this on Christmas Day, one of the quieter days of the year. Maybe Christmas can remind us to take our time.

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Saturday, 25 December 2010

The politics of religion

The Right Reverend Nicholas Reade, the Bishop of Blackburn is asking for "legitimate Christian protests" against government cuts. The bishop uses the word legitimate in order to distinguish his protest calls from those who organise violence. That's the easy bit. The complicated bit is knowing what he is calling for. Are Christians called to support the Coalition cuts or are they more inclined to become members of another party? I have a book written by three MPs, one Liberal Democrat, one Labour and one Tory and each put their case for Christian values within their party. They all make a strong case and they all have their strong critics.

I know that Jesus is fairly happy with a capitalist system as he will render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but I am certainly not clear as to His wishes on the fine detail of British fiscal policy. What should be our aim if we protest? To ease the cuts by 10% or 20%?

Debt is not a good thing for any individual but it isn't a good thing for governments. I really don't think that Jesus would get involved with detailed Coalition policies so I am not quite sure why the bishop should feel the need to get involved. I don't mind individuals having opinions. On the contrary, I think it is really important to have opinions and get involved in politics. My problem is that he has made religion party political.

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Friday, 24 December 2010

An explanation for Christopher Samba

Blackburn Rovers recently acquired new owners and one of their first actions was to sack manager Sam Allardyce. Nothing new there then. It seems that in football contracts are not worth the paper they are written on. Don't get me wrong. I don't feel sorry for the players or the managers as they earn enough to get by even if their contract is broken after a few weeks. I know there are lots of things that cause me to write blogs about football, but this time what bothers me is the attitude that contracts don't matter.

Christopher Samba, the Blackburn captain has spoken out about the sacking and now says he wants to leave. I like this bit. According to the BBC website http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/b/blackburn_rovers/9317103.stm the new temporary manager, Steve Kean is going to "sit him down and tell him what the plans are." This means that Christopher could be sacked at any time if he falls out of favour with the Indian owners. How dare I suggest such a thing? Well they weren't bothered about sacking the top man so why should lesser mortals be safe?

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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Say what you think

On the 10th December I wrote that "some MPs voted with the coalition because they have ministerial responsibility". Well at least four Liberal Democrat ministers have been secretly recorded expressing their concerns for government policies. Ministers can't do this but just because they are ministers doesn't stop them having individual views, it's just that they can't express them.

All ministers are individuals and all have different views if you look closely enough. The problem here is that undercover agents of the press have uncovered their weaknesses. Vince Cable's disagreement with Mr Murdoch highlighted bias which should not be present in the decision making process. We are human and bias is there but Vince was caught in a kind of honey trap. I know that politicians are not held in high esteem and having to disguise your true views won't help but using subterfuge won't help the standing of newspaper journalists. Nobody is perfect but if we have not broken the law should we be subject to a possible newspaper sting in order to sell a few more papers?

I don't think that I could be a Liberal Democrat minister. I would have to say that I am standing by many decisions with which I do not agree. That might be fine if there is broad agreement but I prefer to say what I think. The big changes for government should not concern ministerial unity, they should embrace individuality and allow more decisions to come from the body of the house. Let people say what they think.

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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

As seen in Lancashire Life

I write two blogs per day and today I thought I would share the photography blog with you to reach a wider audience so here it is...

I had promised photos of London from my trip last week but normal service is temporarily suspended, like most of the transport network since my return, in order to give you the latest photography news. There are some great photo on page 96 of the January edition of Lancashire life with the headline "Lancaster Medical Book Club dinner in Morecambe".

Alright they are my photos and what is more they have given me the credit. The editor has chosen thirteen of the photos with more formal poses but there were plenty that were less formal. I am not bothered which photos he chose as it is just very nice to see my photos in the magazine.

I can now look forward to adding some wording on my website that says my photos have been published in Lancashire Life.

Happy snapping

And here is the link to the Lancashire Life website which includes some of the less formal poses: -

http://lancashire.greatbritishlife.co.uk/article/lancaster-medical-book-club-annual-dinner-midland-hotel-morecambe-27819/

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Thoughts from the motorway

As I was driving back from London two things caught my eye. One was that the road was worn in one particular section of the motorway. It wasn't bad but you could see a slight dip in the road wher the weight of vehicles was taking its toll. You often see this effect much more obviously on some drives where the foundation is not good enough. It made me think. Is it worth building roads that are slightly wider and have space, say with a cycle lane, that could mean that the next time that lanes are painted the lanes could be moved to stop the wear in those specific lanes. I am no civil engineer but it might be worth it, a bit like putting car mats down so they take the wear rather than the carpet in the car.

The other thing I noticed was a sign that said the lights would not be lit between midnight and 4am. The main objection to turning off street lights is not traffic safety but to put off thieves. Thieves don't usually break in with the help of motorway lights so there is an element of traffic management. Could more lights go out after midnight? I don't suppose it matters to the vast majority of people but if you are in the miniority then you should have a bigger say. I noticed that in London there was a lot of activity regardless of the hour, but many streets may be lit for nobody.

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Monday, 20 December 2010

Save our superlatives

I am back in Morecambe after three days in London. My trips there and back were uneventful because I left London at 10am on Saturday. If I had left thirty minutes later I may have seen much more snow as when I got home I was hearing reports of our terrible British weather. One BBC reporter was "really scared" as she had to endure a trip from the north to the south of Wales. The weather was bad in parts and I know Wales was affected badly and so too was London and if London is affected then that made the weather atrocious. In fact it was so bad I couldn't bear to listen to this particular reporter who had never been so afraid in her life.

The part of the report that I heard lasted three or four minutes. I don't mind her reporting on the weather. I did mind the emotion and the constant use of superlatives. It turned out that it her journey was delayed by a couple of hours, but it was just a bit of snow. It was no big deal. We need to save our superlatives for important things and get on with driving through bad snow, postponing our journey or at worst being stuck in our cars for a few hours. I think this reporter needs to experience other parts of the world and other hardships.

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Sunday, 19 December 2010

Bring on the link road

Last Monday I went shopping along one Morecambe street that used to be famous for its shops. I didn't take a photograph as the lighting wasn't brilliant (see my photography blogs for photos that I do take) but I would have shown you an empty street at 3pm. It is not a good time to be a local shopkeeper. Partly this is because our spending patterns have changed, but Morecambe is exceptional. The town is by the sea which means that no shoppers are drawn from the west and those from any other direction are hindered by our terrible road system.

I don't think there is a great deal we can do to change the nation's spending patterns and we can't move Morecambe, so the only answer is to improve the means to get here. Bring on the link road. There are many valid concerns about the building of this road but that doesn't include outright opposition.

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Saturday, 18 December 2010

A healthier lifestyle

We spend too much of our time in front of the television or sat at a computer. We eat the wrong things and one in five pupils who leave primary school are obese. According to the school measuring programme if you just look at figures for being overweight then there are more than one in three pupils falling into this category. Compare this with reports that we live too long. We are paying out too much in pensions and we simply can't afford these costs.

It is obviously better to be fitter but the benefits do not come along without risk which is not just a risk to pay for pensions. If you want to walk to work then you might get mugged. Play a contact sport and you might get hit (if you are playing it properly). Work yourself to a peak of fitness and you are close to causing illness. You can't push your body to a limit without passing that limit from time to time.

So what is the best answer? It is to motivate people to want to exercise, preferably in a not so dangerous sport. This may include supporting healthier ways to get from A to B, or by promoting sport. Maybe the best way to get the computer nation to exercise is by using computer games. There are quite a few games on the market that promote fitness. Ultimately we have to support a healthier way of life because it is the right thing to do, but you don't do that by telling people they are unhealthy and it seems that at a local government level all the resources we could be employing for a healthier lifestyle are too expensive.

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Friday, 17 December 2010

Role of Academies

Imagine you are in charge of a school and you have the ability to change the terms and conditions of employment. You think you can keep your staff whatever you do, so do you make things worse for them so you can give more to the children? Do you give the staff a greater reward on the basis that you could get more out of them for the sake of the children?

Academies were created to take failing schools out of local authority control. If you have the ability to increase your income you just might be take up better terms and conditions if they are offered by an academy. The academy may also be able to put more educational resources into the school as well if they get the right sponsorship. The role of academies has changed and it now looks like successful schools are looking to be even more successful as they break away from local authority control.

This week teachers at Clitheroe Grammar went on strike over plans to convert it to an academy. There is no threat of change to the terms and conditions of the present staff which means that the difference could be in the school's ability to raise its own sponsorship or the terms and conditions will change for new employees. I don't think they will fail to attract excellent candidates even if conditions worsened, so my guess is that they will worsen. As an employer why would you offer more money when you could offer less?

It looks like terms and conditions will worsen with academies. I have questions about the role of sponsorship too. I had issues with the role of academies when they were looking to support failing schools. I have even more questions now that they support successful schools.

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Thursday, 16 December 2010

The meaning of matriculation

The next time you see a report on a failing school or a failing educational system that needs reform just compare it to the reports that we receive whenever the A level or GCSE results come out. Our schools are getting better and better despite what you may hear. They have to be otherwise we cannot believe the year on year improvement in results. The results are so good that academic degrees have become necessary for many jobs, not just the professional posts. If the goal is to get half our students gaining a degree then half the candidates for jobs will have degrees. Does every other job require a degree? Obviously not but there are so many personal gains to a degree that we can't complain if the degree doesn't fit the job requirements.

This week I heard a professional chatting. She didn't know the difference between east and west. It didn't matter for the chat, and it doesn't really matter in this context, but how many times do you hear people who don't know the difference between left and right but have academic qualifications? I am not complaining at the people who don't have basic common knowledge. Sometimes you just have a mental block on simple things. My point is that a piece of paper saying that you are part of an academic elite may not mean much.

Knowing left from right may be really important in some circustances but good communication is more important. You don't need to have basic information to get on well in life, but I would question the need for so many degrees as well as their value.

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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Innocent till proven guilty

It costs £41 000 to keep a prisoner in prison for a year. Just imagine if that person was in prison for theft, the chances are that we would be paying more to keep the thief in prison than the amount that was stolen, and this is just the cost of prison. Add on to that the cost of the policing and the judicial system and you soon realise that the real losers are us. There must be so many other costs associated with prisoner rehabilitation and that should be a major goal for prisons otherwise we are paying out a lot of money on prisoners who will come back if they don't mend their ways. What could you do for them with all that money?

It doesn't matter whether you limit the number of prisoners by one or a hundred, for one day or for a whole year. The principle is the same. In the case of Julian Assange he is in prison without trial pending an appeal from Swedish prosecutors and the slight problem of finding £240 000 in cash. What do they think is going to happen to Mr Assange? He is hardly likely to disappear as he has a significant role to fulfil. I don't know if he is guilty, not guilty or innocent but I like the idea of innocent till proven guilty. It has a nice ring to it and will save us a lot of money too.

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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Factors in easing congestion

I cycled to work yesterday. There is nothing special about this except that it was the first time that I cycled back through the centre of Lancaster and I felt quite safe. I am used to cycling along the cycle path that skirts the city and a very pleasant route it is too. However it must save at least five minutes on the journey if you are prepared to risk the main road. Alright it wasn't rush hour but it was busy.

I spoke with someone last week who felt that a proposed new cycle path near their house was not worth the destruction of an old hawthorn hedge. It depends on how many people you can take out of their cars. Hawthorn is nice but new hawthorn grows at a reasonable rate and should not be the sole factor or even the main factor in coming to a decision on creating a cycle path.

We often hear people say that a link road from Morecambe to the M6 will not cure Lancaster's problems and they are right. We have to look at a whole range of factors to ease congestion and easier access to cycle paths is one small part.

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Monday, 13 December 2010

Jon Sopel again

I saw Jon Sopel a few days ago interviewing Paddy Ashdown. He really gave Paddy a hard time but Paddy gave as good as he got. Jon would ask a question and not wait for an answer, then he would ask another question. It would be good to see this interview again but I can't see it on the iPlayer. I have written about Jon Sopel's interview techniques before when speaking with Liberal Democrats. If he isn't prepared to listen to answers then he really shouldn't be asking the questions.

The reason why I am writing about him now is because I watched the Politics Show yesterday and Eric Pickles was on the programme. Jon's first words to him were about wearing a donkey jacket and how Eric used to own one. How they laughed. I would be happy with just the time to answer the question.

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Sunday, 12 December 2010

Don't touch the referee

I can't help it, I have to write two blogs today. The Washington Redskins are playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a player was angry near one of the referees. The commentators were almost angry too. You don't touch a referee or, in American parlance, you are ejected from the game (sent off in English). Earlier in the game Nick Halling suggested that referees had been making mistakes. His co-presenter, the American Kevin Cadle refused to make any remarks against the referee.

We have a problem in England (well Scotland definitely has it too) that we don't respect our referees. I really don't blame the Scottish referees for their recent strike and until we start supporting the decision makers our games and our attitudes are not going to improve.

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Saturday, 11 December 2010

Alex Salmond must be wrong

Scotland's Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson decided that he should resign over his handling of the travel chaos caused by last week's extreme winter weather. He obviously thought that his actions were so poor that he was not worthy to remain a minister and this is a commonly held view. However I saw Alex Salmond on the news on Saturday evening. He seemed to think that Mr Stevenson should not have resigned because the weather was bad.

"I am very sorry that a decent man a competent minister has been forced into resignation basically because of the extremeties of the climate". Maybe Alex Salmond has had time to reconsider his opinion and does not stand by this statement. However this is what made the headlines and it makes Alex look incompetent just like his ex-transport minister.

I don't think that we can hold ministers responsible for failures in the weather forecast. I don't think we can hold them responsible for a failure to deal with a "perfect storm" but we can hold them responsible for failures of communication. On reflection Mr Stevenson must feel that he has failed. What is definite is that he failed to communicate this failure to Mr Salmond, so logic says he has to go on the very simple point that he cannot speak with his leader, never mind the much more complex vagaries of the weather.

As for the weather, we have to decide whether we want to deal with the worst weather possible and keep roads open,or whether we need to close roads.What we don't want is a 20-mile stretch of the M8 closed for 48 hours with hundreds trapped in their vehicles overnight.

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Say no to kettling

The recent vote on tuition fees has been to some extent overshadowed by the associated student protests. It has been on a scale such that it is very difficult to argue that it is "just a few troublemakers". As David Cameron put it, "I don't think we can go on saying a small minority were there. There were quite a lot of people who were hell bent on violence and destroying property". It would be easy to look at the violence and to say that it de-legitimises the students' cause.

Tempting though this analysis may be (and it's certainly the case that there are a few demonstrators who set out with the aim of causing trouble) it ignores what seems to me to be a big cause of much of the violence. It's called "kettling", and it's a police tactic which has no place in any country which calls itself civilised. It has been going on for some time (see my blog on the Peterloo Massacre, 28th November) and which has been demonstrated over and over to be counter-productive.

The demonstrators, along with any bystanders who just happen to be in the same place, are blocked in by police cordons at every exit. For maybe eight hours or so they will have no access to food or water or toilet facilities. It gets its name, presumably, from the way it forces protesters to boil over like a kettle, no matter how peaceful their initial intentions may have been.

Sometimes small numbers are allowed to leave, but only if they give their names and addresses. They aren't legally obliged to give their names and addresses, but if they don't then it's back into the kettle for them.

Presumably one purpose of this practice is to reduce the likelihood that any of the protesters will ever re-"offend", by making the experience as humiliating and degrading and uncomfortable as possible. But in a democracy people should have the right to protest without being humilated and degraded. Many of the protesters in the recent demonstrations were children, being kept out in the cold until late while their parents could only worry impotently about them. That seems to me to be the opposite of what police should be doing. Previous instances of kettling have led to serious injuries and deaths. Fortunately there have been no deaths reported in the recent instances, but I can see no justification for the continuing use of this tactic.

Change the world.

Friday, 10 December 2010

I am a member because...

Why would you abstain if you held a definite view? In yesterday's vote on tuition fees Liberal Democrats voted every way you can think of but I think that all these MPs hold strong views on the subject, so strong that they may have signed a pledge. I also read yesterday that splits weaken parties, and sometimes destroy them. There is a problem here if division weakens the party but the answer lies in the reason why I am a member of the Liberal Democrats.

I am a member because I can participate in forming policy. I am a member because the emphasis on the individual rather than big business or trade union. I am a member because this is the party that most closely fits in with the liberty of individuals including the liberty of MPs to make up their own minds rather than follow three-line whips for things they don't believe in. I am a member because policy comes from the members, not from a top-down leadership.

Some MPs voted with the coalition because they have ministerial responsibility, and maybe they thought the rise in tuition fees was the best choice. Some abstained because they did not want to destroy party unity or they could not break their pledge or they could not support their leader but did not want to vote against him. You can work out more reasons why MPs voted for or abstained or even voted against - something along the lines of voting for pledges. All of them voted decisively. That's why I joined in with this topic. Not because it shows the disharmony within the party but because it shows the diversity.

Personally, I would have preferred a party vote against the motion but that would mean ministers could not have come up with the idea of multiplying tuition fees by three. I would rather find cuts elsewhere. I think that is what the ministes believe too, but they just can't say it, but all the other members can. I have also written a few blogs on how university expectations are far too high. We really shouldn't be funding so many places simply because it is a great experience. Liberal Democrats may be divided but they are not clueless, and this division supports my reasons for membership.

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Thursday, 9 December 2010

A complete cycle path

The social sciences rarely have yes/no answers. Yesterday's blog should have been a yes/no sort of problem. Should we have a roundabout which follows the Highway Code? Somebody decided that there should be a variation allowing for a complex change to the usual road markings.

A much more complex decision has to be made over the planning of a new cycle path in Morecambe. The problem is that the path, as well as a bus lane, will cause the destruction of a very mature hawthorn hedge as well as producing much more tarmac. What sort of influences are there on the decision makers? How long would it take to adequately replace the hawthorn hedge? Would this stretch of cycle path increase the number of cyclists when there is another path fairly near? Would the additional bus lane put more bums on bus seats?

Each of these questions may lead to more and more complex answers.

Of course, the destruction of a mature hawthorn hedge is a bad thing. Producing much more tarmac when we already have more than enough is also a bad thing. Both these unfortunate consequences are pretty much guaranteed if the developments go ahead as planned. This much is simple to see. The gains are much harder to predict or quantify, but one is that the cycle path might make it easier for cyclists to escape the all-pervasive tarmac and find hawthorn hedges elsewhere.

I'm all for cycle paths in general, but not every proposal for one should necessarily be accepted. Because this is such a complicated issue, I asked my brother what he thought. I think he came out in favour of the proposals. "Only a complete cycle path would justify the destruction of a very mature hawthorn hedge as well as producing much more tarmac" were his exact words. At least, I think that's what he said. Personally, I would have to make sure that there was a replacement screen for visible traffic as well as for noise pollution.

Change the world.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Lancaster's roundabout code

If you take a look at a road map of Lancaster and Morecambe you will notice that there are quite a few roundabouts to negotiate. On one of these roundabouts the road markings have changed in recent years. Locals did get used to the changes but strangers are not aware that the markings don't follow the Highway Code. Even the locals have to be aware that the driver in front of them may not know the area.

You may think that if you want to go straight on, as if you were following the road between Lancaster and Morecambe, then you would be in the left lane. Not so. On this particular roundabout you have to be in the right lane. Late manoeuvring is a common and dangerous experience.

I had not thought about this but when approaching the roundabout and travelling toward Lancaster, if you want to drive into the housing estate (almost a complete 360 degrees) you have to stay in the left lane all the way round. This is a notorious accident zone and somebody has been busy with the white paint. It would be nice to think that accidents have decreased but I just can't see it.

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Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Answers from County Council?

I may write about local, national or international subjects for these blogs and I used a couple of local blog entries as the basis for a recent Focus leaflet. I received a message on the answerphone yesterday from someone who wanted to make a few comment about the points I had made and to make a few of his own.

I won't tell you where he lived, as his first concern was about the effect on his and neighbouring houses caused by the building of a new road. Their houses were built on a flood plain and water is dangerously close to the house when it rains heavily. I have lived in east Lancashire and seen the effects of heavy rain as it flowed along streets making them look like rivers. I have even seen water run through houses. The main difference yesterday was that there were no hills. There were no easy drainage answers.

My first reaction was that the County Council would have assessed the changes to drainage and would have made plans, after all, the road is costing enough. I will be contacting the County Council for their view and I have already written to a local councillor for advice. The person who mentioned this to me feels that I won't get an answer and you can see why he may not get complete support from his neighbours. I'll keep you posted.

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Monday, 6 December 2010

Morecambe to Edinburgh return please

I heard some interesting news two days ago. It seems that if you book train tickets exactly two months in advance then they are cheaper. I thought I would give it a go as I like a couple of days here and there rather than a week or ten days holiday in one go. If you follow the photography blog you will see photos of the breaks that I have been taking, and one of the favourite cities from earlier this year was Edinburgh so if the price is right I would be going again in two months.

Try it yourself. It's fairly easy to see how much things cost and the price to travel from Morecambe to Edinburgh is £108. I don't count that as a cheap holiday as it only took £15.50 to fill the tank up in my car when I arrived at Edinburgh and that was for two people. Out of interest I looked to see how much it would cost to set out tomorrow and come back the next day. £95. I won't be letting the train take the strain.

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Sunday, 5 December 2010

Morecambe Marina

A large proportion of the Netherlands is below sea level. We have the technology to reclaim land and the Dutch do it very well. We have the opposite problem in Morecambe. We want to reclaim the sea, specifically we want a marina and we have wanted one for years. The ideal time would have been when the speed limit was imposed on Lake Windermere five years ago. Business at Windermere was really hit hard and there was an obvious gap in the market but Morecambe didn't look through that window of opportunity.

In this week's Morecambe Guardian there is a headline "Report revives marina dream". It sounds a lot more sensible to build a marina near the Midland Hotel than it does to build flats there when coastal defences are failing just around the corner in Heysham and Sunderland Point.

Morecambe used to have a boating lake. I remember it well. The lake was man-made with dyke-like walls attached to the prom. The Netherlands would have been proud of us except it didn't hold water. It isn't beyond the wit of man to build a marina in Morecambe. It would be a great attraction and it would be wonderful for the local economy. Many have thought of building a marina but it strikes me we are at least five years too late and who is going to invest in the present economic climate? I won't be holding my breath.

Change the world

Saturday, 4 December 2010

David Chaytor and Phil Woolas

MPs have never been popular but things have gone worse for them since 2009 when The Daily Telegraph revealed the details of how there was alleged misuse of expenses. Most MPs claimed it was a matter of interpretation. They had to live in a second home because they had to do their job in London. Even this defence was not particularly strong as the household items that were bought didn't fit with the need to carry out the job. Decorative and artistic items were an expense. They did get advice and they did get the expenses, but some things were obviously wrong. And now we know they are illegal with the news that David Chaytor has pleaded guilty to three charges relating to his expenses. The previous claims of innocence and not guilty pleas mean that it will be some time longer before MPs return to their normal level of contempt but at least David Chaytor admits (finally) he was wrong.

Compare that with Phil Woolas. Five judges have now found him guilty but Phil prefers to listen to the electorate, but the electorate will not get another chance to vote for him in the next three years. Phil does not recognise any mistakes. He feels that he is a victim of law and does not regret anything. I only heard him defend himself on points of law, not on the points of criticism. He doesn't like his punishment that bars him from standing in the by-election. He just doesn't get it. There is no contrition. It is also really annoying to hear his Labour supporters claim that he is not a racist and the "Liberals" have called him racist. They (his supporters) are reading different newspapers and watching different television reports to me. In fact they are on a totally different wavelength. It must be their way of dealing with the guilty verdicts. Phil is guilty. His sentence should include rehabilitation and maybe one day he will accept the verdict. Like all those found guilty his punishment should relate to his behaviour and if he starts to say sorry then we should reduce the punshment.

Maybe MPs will never rise to their usual level of contempt in the public's eyes.

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Friday, 3 December 2010

Is it corruption?

So England has lost out in its bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Fifa president Sepp Blatter described England's final presentation as "excellent and remarkable", but the results suggest that he needs to reassess this description after we won only one non-English vote. Both Russia and Qatar had high risk technical assessments but both beat us and the World Cup will be played in these countries in 2018 and 2022 respectively. In fact everyone beat us even though it seems that we had the best technical and commercial bids.

Let's presume that the English hype is correct. We may have lost because the best bids were not good enough against Russia's (and Qatar's) trump card that they have never played host in uncharted parts of the FIFA world. There is another answer. There may be corruption involved in FIFA as highlighted by The Sunday Times and Panorama. If there is corruption it wouldn't matter whether you had the best bids in the world as the winner could just buy their votes. If the English bid has been affected by the British media exposing corruption then corruption is deeper than previously suggested.

The 22 members of FIFA's executive committee vote in a secret ballot. This makes it a little harder to investigate corruption but let's hope that the next time they vote there is no hint of corruption.

One final thought. Did you see the excited delegates from Qatar when it was announced that they had won? There was one youngster who looked bewildered. He was part of the delegation but he wasn't there on merit. He was there because of privilege. How close is that to corruption?

Change the world (cup)

P.S. The first question on Question Time is whether the BBC's Panorama affected the bid. If it did then FIFA is corrupt. If it didn't then it doesn't matter when Panorama went on air.

As for Ken Livingston's idea that if we were one or two votes away from winning then we could blame the BBC, this is simply ridiculous. If we can blame them for losing one vote we could blame them for losing twenty.

P.P.S. It is now 1pm and we know that Cameroon voted for us. So much for the secret ballot. We also know that votes did disappear because of the British media. If that is the case now is the time for a full investigation of FIFA's alleged corruption. Allowing media reports to influence votes is proof to me of corruption.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Someone pays for bad weather

Last winter I wrote about problems caused by bad weather. People couldn't get to work. Well here we go again. I even heard that a university rugby team did not want to travel up the M6 because they could have been delayed getting home. These are possibly the same students who choose to walk across the antarctic as a hobby, but slow driving on the M6 is a bit too challenging.

A year ago I called for a mandatory interview question. How would you get to work if it snowed? Are we really so unfit and so incapable that we can't wear boots and walk through snow to get to work? One survey showed that 57% of workers arrived late for work yesterday, but who should pay for failure to work? One person interviewed on the news last night felt it was unfair that he should lose out. Well somebody has to.

My experience of Lancaster traffic was that it was lighter than usual. I suppose the weather put some people off completely and even though it was snowing heavily as I drove home I was driving faster than usual. I had the same experience driving to work yesterday. It did take five minutes to defrost the car but it just meant setting off five minutes earlier and my twenty-five minute journey took fifteen.

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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Gillian McKeith school of self-control

We live in wealthy times. Most of us live in houses and drive cars. I saw one headline that said that the average household has more televisions than people. This is true in my house but only because one of my childen has left the house and left a TV. Is it true in your household? We expect holidays and plenty of leisure time. We expect the good things in life even if we are unable to work to pay for them. This is why I am so pleased that celebrities in I'm a Celebrity can get excited at receiving salt and pepper.

I know these celebrities are receiving plenty of money to experience life in the jungle but we should all learn to enjoy the simple things in life. Well let's hope this is what we learn from the programme rather than take a lesson from the Gillian McKeith school of self-control.

Change the world

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Fight corruption

David Beckham hopes that the behind-the-scenes allegations of FIFA corruption will not harm England's bid for the World Cup, and I hope so too. If there is any foundation to the claims then FIFA corruption is significant. In one sense it doesn't matter whether their officials have been bribed with £1 or with £1000 (or even £6m) the principle is the same. They are corrupt. Avid readers will know that I am not a great fan of football. The game itself isn't too bad but the managament and politics of the game leave a lot to be desired. Some would say that just the way money is distributed in the game shows that it is corrupt. This goes under the name of capitalism but the additional words "ugly head" come to mind. It is worse when secrecy, bribery and corruption form part of the criticisms of football.

The main point for me was the criticism of the BBC. How can an expose of FIFA corruption be detrimental to England's cause? Well the answer is that it comes from the BBC but this is not a bad criticism. I would rather support the BBC's fight against corruption than a campaign to bring the World Cup to England.

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Monday, 29 November 2010

Creating a big society

The snow has fallen already and it has even affected Morecambe. Where I used to live in east Lancashire the snow would often fall and last for weeks. It hardly snows at all here. On the local television news this week was an article about the council giving a free bag of grit to all householders. I wrote a blog last year about the costs of not using grit. There are injuries to the person, cars crash and they can crash into buildings. I suppose the "big society" means that the council shouldn't grit the streets and individuals pay for the damage. So it is a pleasant surprise that the council should give away grit even if it is only a couple of shovels full.

Then I read why they did it. It was to stop residents taking the grit from the bins! I thought that was what it was there for. They are placed at the bottom of hills where cars could slide into gardens. If there are dangerous steps on private land then so what if the grit is used here. It still costs the NHS if people fall on there own property. It isn't easy to move grit and most of it will be used close to the bins. if they really wanted a good distribution of grit then I would guess all they had to do was allow residents to take grit from the bins. it would have been much easier to distribute.

The beauty of this initiative is that some grit will get to where it is needed and it will be individuals who put it there. Well done Hyndburn Council. You have created your own big society. Shame about the reason for the freebie.

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Sunday, 28 November 2010

At least they didn't use sabres

In 1819, four years after Waterloo, protesters in St Peter's Field, Manchester were attacked by soldiers. Around a dozen were killed and hundreds were injured. This was partly because the police had used a system called kettling. Well they didn't call it kettling then but you know what I mean. It became known as the Peterloo massacre. Soldiers on horses moved into the crowds and used sabres. Some deaths were from the sabres and some were from crush injuries.

On Wednesday there were protests across the country about tuition fees and mounted police rode into the crowd at Trafalgar Square. Protesters were forcefully moved along even though the protest was legal. Now maybe there was a sound reason for the police to disperse the crowd with horses. My view is based on reports and video footage but I don't know everything that went on. What I do know is that Scotland Yard denied that the charge took place. They did remember when footage was posted on YouTube.

This means that the police were trying to cover up an act that they did not want to make public. There is an alternative answer. In this instance the police were inept. One police vehicle was vandalised. My original thoughts were that there was an element of the crowd out to do no good. A cynic may say that any act of vandalism may have been provoked by the police.

The police are hardly in a position to explain why they were charging with horses if they deny that it happened. If they accept it happened then they can give their reasons, but somebody gave the order for the horses to charge. Somebody (the Met's commissioner) denied all knowledge. We have enough CCTV for the police to know what happened and there are enough video cameras for everyone to know what happened. At least they didn't use sabres.

Change the world

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Worse than I'm a celebrity

I was speaking with someone recently who had made national as well as local newspapers because they objected to what the water board were doing. It was pre-united utilities but post water meters. The company decided that they wanted to cut off bad payers and she decided that she was going to fight them. Good for her.

She described herself as a rebel but it's really hard to believe that anyone would put forward a proposal to cut off the water in the first place. Anyone who opposes such measures is not a rebel. The rebels are those who think it is right to stop access to clean water. We may manage without washing but what about drinking? And then there is the small matter of going to the toilet.

I don't think they would even propose this sort of thing on I'm a celebrity get me out of here. We need people to be active in democracy so maybe we need a few more barbaric suggestions that may motivate others to get involved.

Change the world

Friday, 26 November 2010

Controlling the Westminster children

Jokes often have a target and David Cameron has been in the news for aiming his jokes at John Bercow. I think one of the jokes is quite funny but does John Bercow agree? Is he hurt by the joke? Does it matter? Well some readers may be saying "of course it matters" and others may disagree. If a joke is funny then let's tell it. The problem is that not all jokes are funny and some are just insults.

A Lancaster city councillor has been suspended for calling a fellow councillor "a catty girl with a ponytail" and refusing to apologise. Maybe it wasn't a joke but that makes it even worse. It is an insult to use those words about a woman. It is even worse as the councillor is male with long hair.

We should obviously steer clear of insults but we should also avoid jokes that hurt. The joke about John Bercow is funny to me, but is it funny to him? The joke could still be funny without naming a target. The speaker comes across as someone who is doing his best in an impossible situation. It's a pity our politicians behave like children but at least he is doing his bit to control them.

Change the world

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Education Protests in Lancaster

There were protests across the country yesterday and I happened to be in Lancaster. You can look at my photography blog to see my comments on this photo at http://photographyfornovices.blogspot.com/ but here I will discuss the politics of the scene.

I guess that Wednesday was chosen as universities often give over this afternoon to sports or other interests. So a Wednesday protest would seem reasonable but in this case most of the protesters should have been at school. I even met a local headteacher who was keeping an eye on proceedings. He gave his pupils the option of protesting at the school gate but there weren't many takers. He also told me that if the parents knew about the protest then it would go down as unauthorised absence. If they didn't know then it was truancy.

I think it is really important that we protest on things we feel strongly about. If the children are passionate about their education that is fantastic. Unfortunately the great principle of standing up for education falls down because they had to leave school in order to protest. A cynic would say that the children don't really want to protest as their love of education did not extend to yesterday's classes and they had other opportunities to protest without disrupting their education. They just wanted a break from school. It would certainly have been cheaper if those pupils had protested within their schools and then no police presence would have been needed.

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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

A recipe for stagnation

Phil Ainsworth, a spokesperson for Blackburn Town Centre Partnerships was on the news last night following the decision to let the Tithebarn development to go ahead in Preston. This means that £700 million will be spent to revitalise the shopping centre in Preston and as you can imaging, neighbouring towns are not particularly happy about this including Blackburn.

Phil was disappointed but said there were a lot of positives to come out of the report for Blackburn The inspector supported Blackburn's (and Blackpool's) claim that the development will harm their own business but Eric Pickles thought it would not adversely affect the other towns.

It seems so obvious to me that Eric is wrong. A wonderful revamp of Preston is bound to adversely affect neighbouring towns. However I think his decision is correct. We can't stop upgrading our towns and cities simply because we harm neighbouring business. This is a recipe for stagnation.

Change the world

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Planned Chaos for Morecambe

I know that it is only three days ago that I wrote about the traffic congestion in Morecambe but I took these photos at 1pm on Sunday and I had to write about them.

Both photos were taken from the same point on Lancaster Road, Morecambe. On the left I am looking towards our new supermarket along with new traffic lights. This traffic is stationary whereas up till now traffic has moved freely. This was not a traffic hot spot. On the right I am half a dozen cars away from the Shrimp roundabout. And this is 1pm on Sunday afternoon! If things were not bad enough before, we are heading for chaos.

I would complain to the council but I think they have planned for chaos. About ten years ago they put traffic lights up at Scale Hall (between Morecambe and Lancaster). I heard nobody ask for them and everyone complained to me. These traffic lights are a few yards away from a Pelican Crossing, you know those precious things that are only put up after years and you usually have to wait for fatal accidents. Well no pedestrians can cross at a few places all within a few yards of each other. In the meantime traffic between Morecambe and Lancaster is crawling.

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Monday, 22 November 2010

The Big Society

It's surprising where you can get your political inspiration. A couple of years ago I was painting the front of my house making it look nice not for me but for people who look at the house. I came to realise the importance of having a seafront in Morecambe that was not spoiled by bad planning. There are still people who sail past the prom even if there are only specific times of day when they can do this.

Yesterday I was clearing leaves and rubbish in the garden and I realised what David Cameron meant by the big society. I was picking up other peoples leaves and rubbish. I was putting them in the appropriate bin so that the council could make some money in recycling. The leaves could have stayed there. They could have blown down the drains and blocked them. Then we would have had flooding and the cost would have been picked up by individuals. In fact I did notice a lot of flooding in Lancaster last time we had heavy rain.

We can also save on maintenance for our footpaths. I walked along (I use the term loosely) this footpath yesterday (see photo). We can save on maintenance staff, on street cleaners, we can save money on unblocking drains and get everyone to work for the council without pay so that recycling makes money for the big society. You may have guessed that I'm not a fan.

Change the world

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Tuition Fees Petition

Yesterday I received a request by email to sign a petition for the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party to keep its word on tuition fees. I could not sign it as there has to be a clear difference between what the Liberal Democrats in government can do and what everyone else as Liberal Democrats can do.

As part of the coalition government we can't keep our word. All our policies were costed in May but we haven't implemented all our policies (especially the ones that save money). The problem isn't that we have gone back on our word, the problem is that we are not making it clear why we have gone back on our word. Ministers can't tell us that tuition fees are bad as they have ministerial responsibilities - but everyone else can.

Tuition fees are bad but what we really need is the rank and file member to say that we want tuition fees to go. We also have to maintain our identity and at the same time remain partners with the Tories. We can keep our word in the sense that abolition of fees is still our aim and this will be part of our next manifesto.

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Saturday, 20 November 2010

Morecambe goes from bad to worse

On Wednesday a new supermarket opened in Morecambe. It is within easy walking distance of my house but you wouldn't walk because you have bags to carry on the way home. So I drove - but walking would have been quicker. We have a problem with congestion between Morecambe and the motorway via Lancaster and to add to this for the last few months we have had traffic problems because they were building the supermarket. This is nothing to the problems we have now. The traffic lights to get you in and out of their car park are causing huge jams.

By coincidence it was also on Wednesday that I was driving slowly through Lancaster to get home and just as I was getting to the Greyhound Bridge to cross the Lune I heard the traffic and travel news on local radio. All the roads in Lancashire were clear - excellent - but the Greyhound Bridge was stop/start. I think you can forget this description, but how do you describe an average speed of 2 or 3mph?

I have heard confirmation on local traffic and travel many times. The road between Lancaster and Morecambe must be the worst road in Lancashire if not the country, and this week it went worse.

Change the world

Friday, 19 November 2010

Good on the election court

Phil Woolas has to wait until next week to learn as to whether his appeal has been successful. He feels that the previous High Court decision which deprived him of holding public office for three years was an attack on his free speech. Well I agree with Phil. The trouble is that free speech, when used responsively should not include lying, and if it does then it should be restricted. It is no defence to claim that free speech is being eroded when those with this freedom do not use it responsibly.

This is a pretty weak argument for his lawyers to use so they are also putting forward that the lies relate to his opponents political not personal conduct. That's alright then. So his lawyers are accepting that he lied but that's OK if you lie about political conduct. What sort of law is this? What kind of lawyer fights a defence on technicalities (probably all of them but that's not the point)? The point is that Phil Woolas is a liar. We will find out if the appeal court continues to hold this view shortly, but he is not defending the fact that he told lies. He just wants the freedom to tell lies if that is his wish.

Another defence is that the election court had misdirected itself in law, and this would "chill free speech at election time". If this restraint at election times means that we don't get lies told at election time then good on the election court.

Change the world

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Creating Conflict

All too often parents support their child against the school. When I was at school I knew that my parents would agree with the teacher and that was at a time of corporal punishment. Just to put things in perspective there were no major areas of disagreement and I didn't come across many sadistic teachers, but the point stands. Teachers were able to teach because there was discipline in the classroom.

Compare that with the present and in particular with haircuts. If a headteacher has to impose the school policy and take a child out of the classroom because of a haircut then this teacher is really saying that the parent is wrong to have allowed the child an extreme haircut. Parents know about school policies - they sign home-school agreements - but go out of their way to cause conflict.

This week the headline in the local paper is "Banned from classes for this haircut". I can't quite see the picture but it doesn't really matter. It is about the headteacher's ability to rule the school. "It's ridiculous says boy's mum". What is ridiculous is the lack of support given to teachers. This mother should sit in on some classes and see how pupils behave and maybe then she would think twice about creating conflict.

Change the world

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Be careful what you wish for

At the weekend I was speaking with someone who hopes to become a teacher next year. He told me a wonderful story about the incentives that are given in schools and I will share it with you.

Raffle tickets were given to all pupils who worked well, who behaved well or were just there when a teacher thought that there was s good reason to give out a ticket. They were given out fairly regularly but one pupil only received one raffle ticket before he was permanently excluded (expelled to you and me) from the school. You guessed it - he won the raffle!

When I was at school I seem to remember that most of the incentives were negative. A prefect of discipline kept us behaving well. I respond better to praise now and I am sure that I did as a child. I would have wished for raffles to alter my behaviour, but you have to be careful what you wish for.

Change the world

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Legal Aid Cuts

I saw Kenneth Clarke on the news last night. He was announcing cuts to the legal aid service. He didn't mention the legal aid that went to the three former Labour MPs who are facing criminal charges because of their claims for expenses. I wrote about this at the time and I still can't see why the taxpayer should foot the bill. The official answer is that they may face prison so they should get the aid. I think they could afford to pay for their own lawyers.

I am in broad agreement with Mr Clarke but I decided to write this blog when I heard him say "It cannot be right that the taxpayer is footing the bill for unnecessary court cases which would never have even reached the courtroom door, were it not for the fact that somebody else was paying". I thought that was the whole point of legal aid. Allow those who can't afford it to get to that courtroom door. That door will still be reached by those who can afford it.

It can be argued that lawyers fight for all the cases that reach that courtroom door on the grounds of law and they do so for people who could not otherwise afford to be there. As with most of the social sciences, there is a balance as to how much support is given. However I think the balance needs to move away from the compensationitis that plagues our country. We give legal aid for those who are excluded from school. It's time we supported our teachers in their decisions and didn't pay lawyers to put the case against them.

Change the world.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Lembit's good publicity

Is all publicity good publicity? Something must attract us to a certain brand of car or any product or service for that matter. Advertisers spend a great deal of time and money to get their message over. I suspect there is something to this advertising business whether it is advertising on television or personal promotion. And that leads me to the latest series of I'm a Celebrity.

Why do contestants choose to go on this show, live in the jungle and put themselves through the bushtucker trials? In particular why would Lembit Opik do this? It is not entirely unexpected that he should do something like this given his colourful past. I met him when he was a panellist on Any Questions in Morecambe. He came across really well and was able to deal easily with all questions. I may be biased but I felt he won the arguments on the radio. I had a few words with him after the programme and this little bit of publicity would have done him no harm for any future election. I didn't expect him to lose his seat last May, so what happened? Within minutes of the result Lembit couldn't give an answer and I haven't heard one since then.

I hope this programme is good publicity for Lembit and he is elected as an MP again. Let's hope he has worked out why his vote went down last time and made the appropriate corrections.

Change the world

P.S. The programme is on while I am writing and Nigel Havers may have some advice for him.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Morecambe may die

Yesterday I wrote about a questionnaire by the Liberal Democrats from 2006. There was a question about the link road to the M6. It was a hot potato at the time because those who lived next to the prospective road were up in arms. For that matter there is still an active group protesting about the possibility of the road. In fact everyone who lives in the area bought their house in the full knowledge that a road may be built near to them. A link road was first proposed in 1949 and the subject has been re-raised at fairly regular
intervals ever since - see
http://www.lancashire.gov.uk/environment/env_highways/roads/heysham/timetable.asp
As it happens the planning for the possibility of a road led to a broad expanse of land which would leave a fair distance between road and house. When compared with some of the houses and motorways in our cities Morecambe is in a very fortunate postion.

I believe the road is vital to the local economy. It is not hyperbole to say that Morecambe would die without the link. It is dying now. And this leads me to the questionnaire. It was carried out on Broadway and surrounding roads. They are not directly affected by the link road but most of Morecambe and the Heysham peninsula is not affected. There was confusion at the time mainly led by our MP who was supporting an impossible alternative. However the residents were asked if this link road was the only possibility then would they support it. Of those who expressed an opinion 96% supported the link road.

We still have a vociferous pressure group complaining in the newspapers. Unfortunatel we lost a really good councillor partly because of the NIMBY vote, but who knows, maybe we will get that link after all and Morecambe may not die.

Change the world

Saturday, 13 November 2010

County decisions take years

I was looking back at a survey that was carried out in 2006. It related to the speed limit on Broadway, Morecambe which stood at 40mph for as long as anyone can remember but was recently lowered to 30mph. It was an anomaly in Morecambe but it is a wide road and many drivers will feel that they are safe driving at 40mph.

There was a definite split in whether the limit should be lowered. Of those who expressed an opinion, 58% felt that the limit should be lowered. This reflected another question in the survey which was whether the resident was aware of accidents on the road. If they were not aware then they wanted to keep 40mph.

It struck me, and is still striking, that no other political group or politician, including the elected county councillor (who would have been involved in the change) has asked for opinions or even given their opinion. We let the authorities know the results, we heard nothing, and four years later there was a change. This decision was not only taken without consultation by the authorities, but it took years.

Change the world

Friday, 12 November 2010

A degree in abseiling?

There was a report last night about students who were training in the art of what looked like abseiling. One interviewee looked so happy as he told us how much he was enjoying the course while hanging upside down. It seems that there is a demand for these artists and the good news for this student, he told us with his beaming upside down smile, is that he would get a degree too.

There may be a demand for vertical dancing and it may be very entertaining too. My problem is that I don't understand how the artistic demands of a course like this leads to a degree. It may be that there is a lot of academic research into the physiological changes occuring while dancing near the ceiling, but why is it part of a course designed to produce artists?

It is often quoted that the UK produces more photographers per year than the number of professional photographers in Europe. Education is never wasted but some academic training is more useful than others. In the seventies I was amazed that we had a degree in what is normally seen as a practical skill, brewing. If we could redefine what is meant by an academic degree then we may be able to afford to give grants to those who are following such courses and others could get paid while they train for skills like plumbing.

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Thursday, 11 November 2010

A referee with married parents

On Tuesday it was really nice to hear Andy Gray talking about two decisions that the referee made during the Stoke versus Birmigham game. He said they were not easy decisions for the referee to make. Compare this with the usual comments I hear when the man in black is mistaken. They are usually along the lines of how could the referee not see the correct decision. The fans response is less polite. They question the eyesight of the referee and for some reason they tell us that his parents aren't married. In this particular case twice in the space of ten minutes the referee gave goal kicks when they should have been corners.

As far as I am concerned the referee is always right even when he is wrong. Referees are on the pitch to make the best decisions as far as they can. They are human and do make mistakes but it was refreshing to hear Andy Gray's support. Maybe this referee's parents are married.

Change the world

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Labour name-calling

The actions of Harriet Harman are vile and disgusting according to someone who worked for Phil Woolas. According to the BBC website, she was described to her face by one colleague as "a disgrace". Many Labour MPs are coming forward to support Mr Woolas. I am not quite sure what this support means. If it means that he is innocent then I would suggest they look at the evidence and the judges' ruling. If they are giving a character reference for Mr Woolas then they should consider the latest evidence. If they are part of the name-calling then they really should consider their own positions.

Having the right to appeal and being innocent are two different things. I have not heard Mr Woolas say he is innocent. I have not heard him say that he has not told lies. I have not heard him mention any specific allegation and try to argue his case. It is quite possible that he will say that he cannot say anything because the legal process continues, but it does nothing for politics in general and Mr Woolas in particular to hear no specific defence. If he does win on appeal, and I doubt that he will, then it will not be because he has fought his corner as an innocent man. It would be victory on a technicality.

I thought Labour had a problem with one MP. maybe they have a problem with a few others.

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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Good Old "Waterboarding"

It is good to know that British lives were saved because of "waterboarding". This is what George W Bush tells us. It's also good to know that we have the Americans as our allies.

Makes you proud to be British, but it also led me to think of some related issues. I wonder if people would want to kill the British if we didn't have American "waterboarders" as allies. I also wonder if these evil people who wish to take British lives go away because of "waterboarding". Most of all I wonder if we could use other instruments of torture and save more British lives. Thumbscrews worked well didn't they?

Change the world.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Something good about football

I was watching the football match between Hibs and Hearts yesterday. With three minutes to go Hearts were winning 2-0 and the Hibs captained was sent off. There were no complaints. What caught my eye was when the injured player was trying to come back on the pitch you could see things thrown towards the player and the commentator said that the police would have to move in.

The player moved onto the pitch away from the missiles and he was called back by the physio. I don't know how dangerous the missiles were. I don't know if it was something that would cause injury, but they did travel quickly. When you have light objects thrown at you in Edinburgh it might be a sign of friendship, but my interpretation is that we have some Scottish fans who don't know how to behave.

It also makes me think how lucky we are that in England we don't have the same problems with fans that we had in the '70s. We may have overpaid players who don't show respect to referees, tickets that cost arms and legs, players who earn more than I don't know what, agents who will take more money out of the game than hundreds if not thousands of league club fans put in, players that are taught to cheat so that they can win games, players that deliberately foul and injury other players, players who think they can say what they like to referees and don't think anyone watching on TV can lip read, lots of money for some clubs and others going to the wall and commentators that think that referees are never right. We may have this list (and a lot more - this was off the top of my head) but at least in England we don't have dangerous missiles thrown at players - do we?

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Sunday, 7 November 2010

Prison voting

Should prisoners vote? This was one of the questions on Question Time and Shami Chakrabarti thought that the role of prison was purely to protect society. She must have forgotten that prisons also punish and rehabilitate. One member of the audience felt that rehabilitation should mean that prisoners may vote. The role of punishment should mean that prisoners may not.

For me there are so few people who bother voting that any method of putting voting on a pedestal should be applauded - and that means saying that voting is precious and you lose the right to vote when you become a prisoner.

Jack Straw explained that some prisoners have not lost the right to vote, but they have lost their liberty, but if the right to vote were given to all prisoners then this may have a distorting effect particularly on local elections that happen to have a prison in its ward or division. I am not quite sure how distortion may occur. Are all prisoners likely to support Labour? If they support your party then having them in one area is not such a bad thing. Jack must think that prsioners are generally not Labour supporters.

One aspect of standing for election is that you should be able to communicate with your electorate. Is this possible in prison? Would I be allowed to visit prisons on the basis that I am a candidate? On this purely practical point, surely the logistics would mean that it is not possible to knock on their doors.

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Saturday, 6 November 2010

Deter those who tell lies

Whenever I hear anyone talking about what they are going to do immediately after a press conference has finished, I always think that they have decided that the press conference is more important than the thing they really want to do. Phil Woolas announced that he would be taking his legal case further immediately after he had spoken to the press. You can also say anything you like about something that you are going to do - and then change your mind.

The judge said that Mr Woolas had made statements that he knew to be untrue. Mr Woolas' defence was not "oh no I didn't". That is what I would say if I were in his position and I were innocent. In fact the words in his defence were more general and concerned the ability of politicians to say what they wish to say.

Specifically Mr Woolas said "it is vital to our democracy that those who make statements about the political character and conduct of election candidates are not deterred from speaking freely for fear that they may be found in breach of election laws."

Well I'm afraid he is wrong and the error is simple. Those vital statements have to be true. What is vital is that we speak freely as long as we aren't in breach of election law. More than that, we should only be saying things that we believe to be truth regardless of any law.

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Friday, 5 November 2010

Proudhon's Property

Back in February I wrote a blog about the value of democracy and I received a comment questioning its condemnation. The anonymous author of the comment said that there was much to be said for "no government" along Proudhonian lines. I replied that Proudhon was famous for saying "la propriété, c'est le vol" but personal property is important to us.

Last week I was in the Musee d'Orsay and there is a portrait of Proudhon by Courbet and I wondered what Proudhon would think of the grandeur of his location. You don't get a painting in this museum unless it is really expensive. Perhaps Proudhon would be pleased that his portrait is not in a private collection and in that sense it does belong to the public. However it did cost me 8€ to look at it and even at this cost I hope Proudhon appreciates the irony of the cost of looking at his portrait. I don't think I will be driven to anarchy for 8€.

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Thursday, 4 November 2010

When life means life and why protest?

The article in the news that took my attention concerned the conviction of the woman who was jailed for life for trying to murder Labour MP Stephen Timms. She is not mentally ill but did make a list of all MPs who had voted for the war in Iraq and she is certainly a danger to all of these MPs.

There were two things that really struck me. Firstly the meaning of the words life sentence. How can it be that a life sentence actually means a minimum of 15 years? This just doesn't make sense. I can't think of any way that the words life and minimum of 15 years are compatible. I am sure that lawyers may give their explanation as to how they can distort the English language to mean what they want it to mean but in the words of "Just a Minute", it is deviation from the English language as I know it.

The second thing that struck me was the report that there were protests at the conviction. My great concern is that this woman may not be suitable for rehabilitation. Will any of these MPs be safe if she ever comes out of prison? What is the essence of the protest? If the protesters really want her release, are they asking for the death of our MPs? Have the protesters committed a crime?

I watched the BBC news and only three people were seen protesting but this was enough to be part of the report. I have glanced through news items on the internet and I have not found any great detail as to their logic, but my questions need to be asked and I hope the answers are easily found.

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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Steiner insult to the state?

I was listening to Radio Lancashire a couple of days ago and there was an article about a Steiner school in Lancaster. The woman who was talking about the school was explaining the difference between this sort of school and the usual state schools and one of the differences is that before the age of six we principally learn through play, so they don't formally teach reading until the child is six. At the age of four we are not ready to read and write.

The sentence that took my attention was along these lines: - the evidence shows that particularly with boys, if they are forced to read and write early, they actually get turned off reading and writing.

Now I don't know whether this sentence is true or not but if it is true then it is a fair old insult to state schooling. I would be interested to hear the reply in defence of the state school. Would they say yes you are right, we are wasting our time? I don't think so.

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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Lancashire has no local enterprise partnership

How do you decide natural political boundaries? Well they could fall within geographical boundaries like Lancashire, but Lancashire didn't get any local enterprise partnerships when three bids from the north west were not good enough last week. One was called Pennine Lancashire - whatever that means and one was from Blackpool Wyre and Fylde and the other was from the Lancashire County Council.

There are signs that distinguish Lancashire from everywhere else because it is a place where everyone matters. I am not clear why Blackpool should be independent of the rest of Lancashire but there is obviously a case for this boundary. If that is the case then we could be looking at independence for any local area.

One spokesperson said that the economic geography of Lancashire is not very neat and it makes no sense for Lancashire to organise itself as a functionl economic area. It seems that anyone who knows the area will recognise that The answer, according to this person was that there are three areas, possibly two, that have a functioning economic area.

This all seems pretty vague to me. I sort of know the Lancashire boundaries even if you do take away places like Blackpool and Blackburn. How you then decide that the economic geography falls into two or three just sounds artificial. Maybe if all of these groups did work together we could have a local enterprise partnership.

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Monday, 1 November 2010

Who do you believe?

I came home from holiday on Sunday and I was catching up with the local news by reading the weekly local papers. The Friday paper has a headline about the Morecambe link road and it may still be going ahead (see yesterday's blog). There is significant support from businesses and from our MP. There is less support from the Green Party who will not be on friendly terms with civil engineers and a local pressure group is vociferous for its environmental and financial concerns - and there is a NIMBY factor. The leader of this pressure group tells us that he did not believe the new road would ease congestion or create jobs. A Green Councillor thinks it would be "crazy" to spend money like this just to save ten minutes on a journey. A local businessman told us his wagons could spend an hour extra on the road at the start and end of each day.

Does it take ten minutes or an hour to get through Lancaster? The answer is yes. It depends on how busy the roads are and I have documented my longest journey to the motorway which was far in excess of an hour. Will it create jobs? It is obvious to me that businesses will only thrive in Morecambe and Heysham if the infrastructure is present. Will the new road ease congestion? There is no doubt that it will be easier to get to the motorway and every vehicle that uses this route is one vehicle less through Lancaster. I hope the economy continues to grow and there is more wealth in society, in which case there may be more vehicles on the road so congestion may build up again. However, certainly in the short and medium term congestion will decrease in Lancaster.

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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Congestion in Morecambe and Paris

I have just returned from France. What should have been a ten-day break became seven because of a French tradition called striking and this meant that a petrol shortage would mean that I couldn't drive through the country. As it happens it was fairly easy to get from A to B so this is today's blog - why is it easier to drive through France when it is on strike than Britain when it isn't?

Have you seen the way they drive around the Arc de Triomphe? Well I wasn't bold enough to drive here but I was walking and traffic was moving fairly easily. I did take on the peripherique of Paris and it did get busy at times, but never as busy as the usual traffic between Morecambe and Lancaster.

Let's hope that whoever makes the decision about the building of Morecame's link round appreciates the general level of congestion.

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Saturday, 30 October 2010

A benefits tax

One of the problems of the capitalist system is that we are seeing companies leaving this country and leaving the EC. There are lots of examples where production has been taken out of the country and this has caused many of the workers to sign on. Manufacturing industry is collapsing in this country and it is almost inevitable that the loss of jobs will mean higher costs in benefits. The owners of the company remain the same and they move the company out of the country purely to maintain or increase profit. So the owners do well but the workers lose out - and so does the country.

How do we get round this? How do we limit the loss of manufacturing industry to abroad? The simple answer is we can't. Owners have the freedom to move out if they so wish. What we can do is work on how we deal with their product if they wish to sell it in this country. A simple benefits tax on these products will go some way to repay the nation for the mobility (that's politer than greed) of the company.

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Friday, 29 October 2010

Young Offenders

I heard two stories recently about the way that offenders are treated. The first was about a young offenders' unit (not in Lancaster) that had naughty boys continuously kicking expensive doors that then had to be replaced. This person, who worked there from time to time, also told me that it looked like they could do anything they wanted. I have actually been told by a prison officer many years ago that prisoners had to have television in their rooms and all sorts of recreational activities.

The second story was about the Manchester Police Museum. I haven't been there but I may put it on my list of things to do. It is not that long ago when prisoners had to sleep on wood. I have been around Lancaster Castle and I have also seen the cells in Lancaster Town Hall - there used to be a court there. These cells didn't have the luxury of wood to sleep on.

Times change but if prisoners can't look after the things they are given then how many times should they be given them again. It is a little like the benefits blog on Wednesday. Jane wrote comments with the view that we have to look after the needy. My view was that we need to have incentives in order to work rather than take up benefits. I know Jane thinks I am a reader of the Daily Mail (I'm not) but I think the tide is turning against prisoners having luxury upon luxury and against benefits being more lucrative than work.

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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Astute Weapons

HMS Astute spent more than ten hours on a sandbank last Friday off the Isle of Skye. Luckily nobody was injured and there was no threat to the environment from the nuclear reactor but it made me think about the "astute" nature of this country's defences. We heard that there are 39,000 acoustic panels so that nobody will know its location. Well I can now confirm that there are times when 39,000 panels are not enough.

Accidents happen and I am sure this was not the first time that a submarine was left high and dry and it won't be the last. In fact the Ministry of Defence said this was not a major incidence. Would it have been a major incident if it had been carrying nuclear weapons? Is this our country's main defence?

On Tuesday I wrote about the effects of the bouncing bomb. In relative terms this is nothing compared to the effects of a nuclear warhead. If the Geneva Conventions do not allow for the bombing of dams then how do they see the use of nuclear weapons? I am not convinced of the need for this country to renew its nuclear weapons and I am not convinced that we could use them legitimately if we did have them.

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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Hitting the poorest

Did you see on the news the woman who claimed benefits and could not go to work unless she received a salary of £60,000? Is this fair? Due to the complexity of the benefit system she was getting money from many directions for many reasons. She will be an extreme example and that is why she got on the news but in general people who work should get more than people who are on benefits, otherwise what is the point of working?

I hope this is not a common occurrence and in the vast majority of cases it is worth working. I have never earned anything close to £60,000 and for that matter I earn nothing like the benefits she gets. It may be the case that this is an extreme example but whether it is or whether it isn't, it is a good example of how we could be taking money off the "poorest" and still have a fair system.

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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

When to look for a whistle

Wikileaks has been in the news because it is the website that released almost 400,000 classified US documents about the war in Iraq. Hilary Clinton criticised them and said that this information put US soldiers lives at risk. That can't be good so why would anyone publish such information? Would you publish it? There comes a time when anyone would act if they felt it was the right thing to do. In this case Julian Assange, the founder of the website said he wanted to reveal the "truth" (my inverted commas) about the conflict. His truth included evidence of torture that had been ignored.

Last week I watched the film The Dambusters as well as a documentary on 617 squadron. You probably know the story that on the 16th May 1943, 19 aircraft set out to destroy three dams in Germany's Ruhr valley. In all films like this the British are the heroes and the Germans are the evil enemy. According to the documentary the effects of the bouncing bombs were devastating and their use would now be illegal under the Geneva Conventions. If you can't tell the difference between the goodies and the baddies then it is time to blow a whistle.

I am not criticising the 617 squadron as their actions were not against the Geneva Conventions at the time. However if your army takes part in torture and knows they are torturing then I would look for a whistle.

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Monday, 25 October 2010

Council Efficiency

I attended a recent count for a byelection and as we were leaving the town hall the clock struck 11pm. It had taken an hour to finish the count as polling stations had closed at 10pm. I suppose that isn't bad for a count. You see them racing in with the ballot boxes at the general election to try to announce the first MP.

Well nobody was racing into the town hall this evening and what intially sounds like an efficient count did not turn out to be so. There were eleven council workers. Let's say ten to make the maths easier and there was around 600 votes to count. This means that each official had to count 60 votes in 60 minutes. I'll let you do the maths. I think I could do my share in about a minute.

Alright, they did have to bring the ballot boxes to the town hall (ten minutes) and verify them before counting, but I'd like to think that improvements could be made in the running of this aspect of council work.

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Sunday, 24 October 2010

Anonymous Comments

Yesterday I received an anonymous comment. It wasn't greatly insulting but I decided that enough was enough and have changed my blog settings so that I can't receive anonymous views. It is a shame because I don't want to deter anyone from writing in. Sometimes you have to be brave to put your name to comments but most of the time bravery isn't needed, and that's why I have changed my view.

I have some comments that have not been published for various reasons. I was keeping them pending comeback from the author(s) but I can't do this indefinitely. If commentators are brave enough to give me their name then I will be brave enough to publish them.

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Saturday, 23 October 2010

Scientific doubt

Following on from yesterday's blog, we rely on our scientists to give us information. Sometimes this information is contested and we believe the scientist that we want to believe. In the case of Dr David Kelly this information was cloaked in secrecy. It was like the government was wanting us to believe scientific evidence but not give us the evidence.

Recently Stephen Hawking, Britain's most famous physicist told us that there was no place for God in the creation of the universe. This was countered, among others. by another physicist Professor Brian Foster from Oxford Univesity. Our academic experts become experts because they investigate a small part of our knowledge. By definition they cannot be experts in all aspects.

Going back to the death of Dr Kelly, the only people who can contest the results are those who have the information. I thought the ulnar artery had been cut and this was more likely to be from a defensive manoeuvre rather than an attempt at suicide. I have already written about some of my misgivings in August. I'll look forward to reading more of the explanation.

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Friday, 22 October 2010

Interest in David Kelly's death

On the 23rd August I wrote about Dr David Kelly. My main concern at the time was that there was an embargo on the findings from Lord Hutton's investigation into the cause of Dr Kelly's death. Well the news today is that we will discover the reasons behind his death in the near future rather than the original plan to leave it for seventy years.

Some doctors say you can't kill yourself by cutting the ulnar artery (the most difficult of the wrist arteries to get to if you are trying to kill yourself) and others say it is a "textbook" method.

I don't know how Dr Kelly died but I am interested to find out. What is particularly intriguing is not whether you can die from blood loss from slashing your wrist, I suspect you can given the right (should that be wrong) circustances, but what is so horrific about this information that it should be kept quiet for seventy years. It sounds like there should be a lot of interest in this disclosure even if it just means that we live in a state that keeps routine information under lock and key.

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P.S. The "secret" evidence has been published and there is still doubt about the results. They are important but I am in no position to contest them. However, I have seen nothing that would shock any relative. Why were these secrets to be kept for seventy years? What sort of state are we living in? There are false and hurtful allegations plastered all over our tabloid press and corrections and apologies are placed in the middle of the paper (if at all) some time later. It is really good to see these documents made public. All I need now is an explanation fo why they were private.

P.P.S. According to tonight's BBC news. the family always believed he committed suicide. That's unusual most families would find this difficult to accept. Michael Gaunt, a consultant vascular surgeon was interviewed and he told us that Dr Hunt was the only person to examine the body in detail and his conclusion was that the blood loss was sufficient to be the cause of death. The more I hear the more I wonder what is going on. We are talking about the death of someone who upset quite a few people in government and there is only one person who knows what actually happened. I don't think I will be the only one to spot these strange findings.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Downing Street photography

In April last year I wrote about the resignation of Bob Quick who was the head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard. One of his mistakes was to show confidential information to waiting photographers in Downing Street. I don't think this was his biggest mistake, after all, we all make mistakes but he happened to resign shortly after this. Since then there has been a long list of people who have also shown confidential information to photographers and I have not heard of any other resignations. It is the sort of thing that can happen to anyone. it is a failure in the system which is preferred to the possibility of invited guests going into Downing Street with a briefcase. Two days ago it was the turn of Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander.

In this case it meant that headlines were made yesterday that were meant for today. There really is a long list of private and confidential documents that have been filmed in Downing Street. My problem is not with the photographers - that's their job. It's not with the long list of people, mostly politicians, who made errors - nobody's perfect. It is with the decision to ban briefcases from Downing Street. You only get past the gates if you are invited. So we can't trust invited guests. If that is the case are briefcases banned whenever and wherever two or three cabinet members meet?How did we get to this stage?

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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Who needs anonymity?

Occasionally I receive anonymous comments. Most get published and one comment that was published recently criticised my blog because of the small number of followers. This number does not bother me. For me these blogs are a method of letting anyone know my thoughts on any subject that takes my fancy. It is good to see some comments as I treat them like a conversationa and that is how ideas develop.

There is one follower who sent me a very nice email about a year ago and I became a follower of his blog. He now has 3047 followers as well as me. It looks like some people collect followers like trophies and this means that the actual numbers of followers is meaningless.

Andrew Marr criticised blog writers recently by calling them "inadequate, pimpled and single". Inadequate relates to task so I am not sure how Andrew gets to this conclusion. Pimples aren't relevant and I don't think marital status rates too highly in my philosopher of the year competition. I didn't hear his comment in context but I suppose I can relate his feelings to some of the comments that I get. One such comment has been deleted because it was offensive. I am keeping the others just in case the authors wish to come back to them.

Some comments are not relevant. Some commentators have their own agenda and don't even try to relate their comment to my blog. Invariably these comments are anonymous. If these commentators are unable to give their identity then it may be the case, in the words of Andrew Marr, that they are "socially inadequate" and "very angry people".

I am not sure if you can come to these conclusions from specific comments but I would much prefer to deal with individual comments than evaluate the commentators. The trouble with anonymity is that no defence is needed. No supporting evidence is needed. You can say what you like with reputation intact. I am sure there is a case for witholding identity but I just can't see it with my blogs.

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