Sunday, 28 February 2010

"Democracy is the worst form of government..."

Democracy is good. It might be difficult to define but we know that it is better than a dictatorship because it could be an evil dictator. It has to be better than anarchy, and as for communism well we know that it collapsed in Europe and there is no support for it here anyway. Winston Churchill thought that we would accept democracy with all its faults because it is better than anything else that has ever been tried.

There are problems with democracy and many changes have occured to improve it. Before the Reform Act of 1832 we had rotten boroughs and the best example of corruption comes from Old Sarum which had three voters. Manchester had no MPs prior to 1832. However things have improved. In 1918 women got the vote which was progress, even if they did have to wait another ten years for the voting age to be equal with men.

There are many other improvements that could be made to our democracy. In local politics if you have money you can still buy glossy leaflets and get them delivered. If we had a party list system you could buy your own party and get to the top of the list. Just because a voting system is proportional doesn't make it a better system. However the biggest threat to our democracy is related to buying seats under our present first-past-the-post system. It is quite frightening that Lord Ashcroft is doing just that. See

The paper reports that 5% of party income is down to Lord Ashcroft. I heard William Hague saying it was less than 2%. It doesn't really matter. Our democracy is weakened by a steeply sloping playing field. It sounds like a joke but what is the difference between a rotten borough and Lord Ashcroft's funding of marginal constituencies? I'll let you provide the answer.

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P.S. The actual quote from Winston Churchill is "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." We need to keep working on those faults.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

This is my truth

As regular readers will know, I have started to add comments to a blog from a member of the BNP in order to understand the way he thinks, and he has reciprocated. There are many aspects of his thinking and the thinking of BNP members in general that I would like to question. I could take up most sentences of my correspondence with him as well as most sentences of his blog but I'll just take two of them. He wrote "I think that anybody who refuses to believe a person when they set out precisely what their party's ideology and stance is regarding a particular issue - is a fool. For a person cannot deny fact".

How do you define a fact? I am old enough to remember the Guardian adverts on TV that told stories from different perspectives. The first 'truth' was false. So was the second. Take the denoument of many films and the hero turns out to be the villain (or vice-versa). Ewan McGregor is a wonderful person in Angels and Demons until the CCTV is considered. It is so obvious that taking things at face value is not always the best course of action. If you can be precise in the social sciences then you are almost inevitably wrong.

As I pointed out to him, you may claim that a foolish opinion is a foolish opinion, but not that a person is a fool because they choose to believe something that you disagree with. This point was not accepted. What is a fact? You may think that science will give you facts, but even in science there is talk about tolerance, acceptable variation. Are you travelling at 30mph or 29.72mph or any other number of decimal points after this. 30mph is not a fact so what chance have you got with the much more contentious social sciences?

I would like to know more details about the BNP's definition of ethnicity and what this looked like in Britain prior to 1948. I used the metaphor of classical guitar and how I like South American music. It seems this is alright because it is a minority interest but I remain just as confused as to how they view South American influences. Even though I am trying to get more answers I feel the answers will be related to the quote from GBS "Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it".

Friday, 26 February 2010

"I am not young enough to know everything"

I write daily blogs on politics and on photography. I enjoy photography and I also enjoy civil liberties. I am not keen on upsetting people so I use my discretion when photographing them, even when I am being paid to do so at weddings. On Wednesday I thought I was going to combine my interests and ask for greater freedom to take photographs when writing about an Accrington photographer.

I have written previously that I find great motivation to write blogs when I listen to debates and disagree strongly with what has been said. A close second is listening to two people debate who have strongly contrasting opinions. Add to the list people who comment on a blog, remain anonymous, use fairly strong language and then don't reply. There is a possiblity that you have read my blogs before but it is less likely that you have read the comments so here are the comments from Wednesday's blog.

Anonymous said...

What?????? are you insane. You are saying we NEED to show respect to our "Authorities"...
Lest we forget, the police and "authorities work for us. we do NOT have to justify our existance to an organisation that WE created to protect our rights.
As you pointed out, he was NOT obliged to give any information (It says so very clearly on the Home Office website) Unless there had been a complaint recieved. or he had been observed breaking a common law.
The kind of mealy mouthed logic that allows our servants to assume superiority, leads to mealy mouthed pandering to "authority" figures that allows to them undertake 2 illegal wars, a fake derivative crash, and god knows what else to come.
I, for one am sick and tired of taking it any more, I`m am an Englishman, and I still have a pair of balls. Bless our Accrington friend, shame he never stuck to his guns...

Michael Gradwell said...

Two points. Do you see any merit in my blog anonymous? Secondly, why are you anonymous? If you are the same person that has written to me on several occsions then I have already asked you this question. You have asked me questions and I have answered to the best of my ability but you haven't answered mine about your anonymity.

Michael Gradwell said...

There has been no reply from anonymous so I'll add to my previous comment.

Is it insane to show respect for authority? Is it wrong to balance civil liberty with law and order? Did anonymous complain at my sanity because he feels the Royal Yacht is a threat to our security or does he (or she) think that a photo of the gates of Downing Street may bring down the government? I don't know why they are hiding behind anonymity but I would guess that they have acted foolishly in the past and could not be taken seriously if they give their name, and maybe that's why they like to call others insane.

When I read such conviction I am reminded of the quote from Oscar Wilde "I am not young enough to know everything". I hope this person learns to see other sides to an argument.

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Thursday, 25 February 2010

Red Tape

This week I was listening to local radio and there was an interview with a coach tour operator. We know the economy is not good and I am sure that he was affected too but he was upbeat in telling us how people were still taking trips out. There were less trips to the Continent but trips were still being taken. They didn't travel too far because they were day trips. Then he mentioned school trips. They had been similarly affected by the economy but there was another factor that was much more important. It seems that school teachers cannot allow children to walk along a footpath without a risk assessment being carried out.

Compensation culture has a lot to answer for. There is a legal expression which is something like if it isn't written down then it didn't happen. You know it happened, they know it happened but we spend so much more of our time writing things down than we do doing things. It sounds a bit like writing blogs but at least you see a finished blog. So much of the important writings for the legal authorities get put into a cupboard and are never seen again until they are destroyed. The extra demands on almost anyone, not just teachers must obviously be worthwhile if it means the correct compensation can be paid. I am not sure that the system works. What it definitely does do is it takes people away from the work that they set out to do and puts them at a desk writing about it instead.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010

An Accrington Terrorist?

I went to see the Royal Yacht Britannia last week but I couldn't take a photo by walking round the port as it was closed off. It didn't look like there was any special reason for closing this specific area to the public but I think it was something to do with terrorism. I'm not sure how terrorists work but I found lots of books with photographs of the yacht in the gift shop. I may be wrong but it strikes me that a lot of terrorism laws are used to protect copyright and increase sales.

I think there is a law to stop people taking photos near Downing Street. When I was in London recently I saw three armed police officers on the other side of the gate. It was night and I needed a flat surface to take a photo of number 10 without flash and there just happened to be one there. I may have taken a photo, but if I did and if a police officer told me to delete it then you can be sure that I would have done so (it may be that this particular view through the gate did not make a good photo). I did google the words photography and Downing Street and couldn't find anything.

This leads me to the arrest of a photographer in Accrington. You can see the arrest at and come to your own conclusions. I really wanted to use the Guardian report to say how our civil liberties were being eroded and it was outrageous that we can't take photographs in public areas. However I didn't come to that conclusion. It seemed to me that this amateur photographer knew his rights and wanted to test the police. He was acting foolishly. It made me think of children in school who know their rights and don't comply with instructions from the teacher.

The friend didn't get arrested, because he gave his name and address. Simple. Anyone who isn't prepared to give this information willingly to a police officer in my eyes is acting suspiciously. I know the photographer was not obliged to give his details (and so did he), but he could not have been arrested on that point alone. Suspicious behaviour had to be part of a pattern - which in this case it was. I don't know what he did before the filming started which may have been suspicious but I saw this pattern of suspicious behaviour during the film because he repeatedly photographed the police officers after being asked to stop. His repeated legal terminology got my back up and I was just watching the video. We need to show respect to those in authority whether in school or in Accrington town centre.

I didn't think I would come to this conclusion when I thought about writing this blog but at least the photographers got their photos.

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Get your walking shoes on.

Today's blog is not about national or international headlines. It isn't about bullying in number 10. about BA cabin crew staffing levels or even Nick Clegg's guarantee of respite for carers but it is about something that is close to my heart and it is also close to the hearts of many people who live in Morecambe. It is about the traffic. On the 11th February I wrote that it took me 43 minutes to travel 4.2 miles through Lancaster to the motorway. Yesterday I attended a study day at Lancaster University. I took the back roads through Lancaster and the 4.6 miles to the university and it took me 55 minutes.

This was nothing. I spoke to someone who travelled from Heysham. They set off at 7.45am and arrived just in time at 9.30am. One hour forty five minutes to get 5.1 miles! It's time to get our walking shoes on.

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Monday, 22 February 2010

Public versus private transport

I recently came back from London and wrote about the traffic. I will write about the traffic again now that I am back from Edinburgh. The Royal Mile was a little slow but Morecambe to Lancaster is worse. Partly this is due to Edinburgh's very efficient system of public transport which usually meant that I did not wait at all for a bus and the maximum wait was around seven minutes. It was cheap too at just over half the cost of Lancaster's buses. The first time we caught a bus my wife asked if that was for one or two tickets. The driver said we could pay more if we wanted. A day rider at £3 took us all around the city plus a trip to the Royal Yacht Britannia. Why would anyone want to drive at all?

However there is another side to the public versus private transport coin. I have a very efficient car which I filled with petrol before I set off and then filled again when I got to Edinbugh. It cost me £15.50 for the two of us to get there. How can public transport compete with that? I would like to say that next time I would travel by train but I can't think that I would even look at the cost of the train journey. I am pleased that the cost of travelling in my car is so cheap but I can't help feeling that train journeys should be cheaper.

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Sunday, 21 February 2010

MPs deserve a seat

I have been away for a few days in Edinburgh. This means that you will be seeing some of the photos in the photography blog in the near future and it also means that up to yesterday my political blogs were not current. I hope it wasn't too obvious but I'm now back to writing them the day before they are published. So what has happened while I have been away? I like writing blogs that have obvious answers and Nicholas Winterton provided the inspiration for this one particularly because I took the train to London only a week ago. Alright it is not completely up to date but it is an easy one for me.

Not only did I travel on a Virgin train with a standard ticket but I also went on the Underground and I saw hundreds of people who were able to concentrate on whatever they were doing. Many were reading the paper, some were reading novels. I also saw lots of people who were in a world of their own listening to headphones. I even saw a university lecturer marking her students' work. With a little discipline you can get a lot done even if the environment is not first class.

I know that the work of an MP may be confidential at times but I'll rule out private offices on trains. I know that better facilities help to get work done. I also know that some MPs will get on a train and relax while others will work really hard and the amount of work may have no bearing on the length of the journey. However you can't relax and you can't work unless you have a seat. The only guarantee for this is to have a first class ticket. You may now be thinking of adding a comment along the lines that you can book standard seats. Mine was booked unfortunately the train was cancelled.

There may be some MPs who could give 100% standing on a train packed like sardines but I think if they have managed to get a seat in the House of Commons then they deserve a seat on a train.

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Saturday, 20 February 2010

How to pay for social care

I watched The Politics Show last Sunday and I was particularly interested in the debate on funding for elderly care. The Conservative spokesperson had pulled out of the talks because Labour were not ruling out a new tax to fund care. I am not sure where this leaves the debate. If the objective is to stop headlines about pensioners selling houses to pay for care then payment has to come from somewhere else.

The easiest answer is to raise a new tax. If this is not acceptable because of a fundamental philosophy (which wasn't there the previous week) then huge savings, because it is an expensive business, have to be made elsewhere. The whole debate changes from how do we go about supplying social care to what is less important than social care and this is a huge debate which should not be confined to three MPs who speak out on social care.

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Friday, 19 February 2010

Schoolyard Arguments

Eric Pickles, the Conservative Party chairman has taken exception to a phrase on Twitter written by Labour MP David Wright. While referring to the Conservatives, he had written "you can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig". Mr Wright claims that the words "scum-sucking" were added by a "third party" but Eric doesn't accept this. It seems that Mr Wright had already used the term "scum" to describe the Tories.

I don't know if Eric objects to the word sucking because if the word scum has been used previously then an objection should have been made earlier. More importantly Mr Wright denies the charge. If his comments are a matter of public record then the evidence should be produced. However I am not really sure why this is a public debate. It sounds more like it should be confined to the schoolyard.

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Thursday, 18 February 2010

How do you know when a Tory is lying?

On the 4th December last year I wrote about Margaret Beckett's mistake when talking about the Mansion Tax. She thought that 86 000 was 86. I don't remember an apology but at least she had the decency to look embarrased. This week the Tories are making mistakes (nothing new there then) on their teenage pregnancy figures. Does it really matter if 54% is actually 5.4%? They are only figures to support an argument that the country is going to the dogs under a Labour government.

Incredibly this was actually the explanation that the Tories gave! "A decimal point was left out in a calculation...It makes no difference at all to the conclusions of a wide-ranging report which shows that Labour have consistently let down the poorest in Britain."

I have written blogs about the disservice that this attitude does to politics in general not just to the Tories. There is no apology for the error, no recognition that the figures are improving, and not even any embarrasment. This approach is not good for anyone and is more ammunition for people who simply don't believe what politicians have to say. It is really important to note that this spin comes from the Conservative Party not from an MP, but there may be individuals within the Party who know when they should apologise.

This reminds me of the joke about politicians lying and the answer relates to lips moving. If the Tories did apologise it might do them some good but it would do politics in general a lot of good.

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Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Keep Calm And Carry On

Recently I came across a blog from a BNP supporter who described himself (I think it is a he) as "quite the thinker". I have made a few comments on his blog because this gave him the chance to think and it also gave me the chance to get a deeper insight into the psyche of a BNP supporter. They don't think they are racist. Just think of the way Nick Griffin described the forced move to open membership to everyone regardless of colour of skin as proof that they weren't racist. To me this is proof that they are racist but there must be something in the way they think.

I seem to have a different view to almost everything this particular BNP supporter thinks but I wasn't going to get anywhere by saying this. I tried to limit my comments to one or two points only. Here is an example. I know that the cartoons that were published about the Prophet Mohammed are deeply offensive to Muslims. He reproduced a cartoon in his blog so I pointed out the offence. He replied that it wasn't offensive because he didn't draw it! I came back with an analogy. It is much better to use metaphors because debate can soon become heated. I managed to explain that his actions were offensive and he modified his argument to say that offensive arguments were needed to highlight even greater offensive arguments. I really need to understand this type of logic. In the meantime I will have to get one of those posters "keep calm and carry on".

If you want to read the original comments you may find them at

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Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Neil Warnock's rant

If I had a choice I would watch a rugby match rather than football. Neil Warnock has confirmed my opinion in his latest comments about an assistant referee but don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching both games. Neil has asked for the official to be banned because he made a mistake. It seems that after making the mistake the official did not apologise which prompted the Crystal Palace manager to say "you've got to be taught or trained so that you never lose concentration". Please would you find this course for me because unfortunately I am a member of the human race and I (very) occasionally make mistakes.

The actual mistake was to give Aston Villa a corner when it came off one of their players. Villa scored a goal from the subsequent corner but if you get chance to watch the mistake then you will see none of the players complain. The ball hit players like a ball in a pinball machine.

Compare these comments with those of Stevo in the rugby league match between Warrington and Castleford. One player decided to talk back to the referee so a scrum changed to a penalty. You just don't do this in rugby and if you do it is accepted that the referee is is right because he has the whistle. Stevo said " Since 1895 when the game broke away you (the player) will never have the last word". I think this attitude is directly linked to the much better behaviour of rugby fans over their football counterparts. The next time Neil want to have a rant he should realise that he has a lot of responsibility to the players, the game, the spectators and the referees.

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Monday, 15 February 2010

The Internet Posse

I received a comment on Friday asking for my views on Basically it is quite a long article that contains a list of politicians who have been involved in scandals. I did reply that I was going to be busy for a couple of days (see my photography blog where you will find some photos of the two weddings for which I was the photographer) so I couldn't give a considered reply. However I can give my general thoughts even though I still have some work to do on the photos.

We are all human and prone to human error. The judicial system is not perfect and some of the politicians in the list may indeed be innocent. The article is a little out of date because it refers to Prime Minister Tony Blair. Jack Staw's son was arrested 13 years ago so this article covers a large spectrum of society over many years.

I think the anonymous person who told me about the article wanted me to condemn all the people listed and say that I was horrified. However scandals happen and politicians are not immune from scandal. As for me judging them, I am not in a position to do so. I will condemn actions if you like but I don't think that this was the response that was wanted.

I may give my opinion on specific examples from the website in future blogs, but here is one final thought of a general nature. I don't see people as either saints of evil creatures. I think we are all on a sliding scale of goodness and just because some are found guilty in our courts it doesn't mean that we should get up a posse and drive them out of town. It just feels like this article is doing the internet equivalent.

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Sunday, 14 February 2010

Is sleep deprivation torture?

I thought Shaun Ley did very well on Friday when he chaired Any Questions for the first time. It was easy to find the inspiration for a blog when I listened to Kelvin MacKenzie give his answer to the first question about whether the British authorities knew about torture or rendition. I don't know if Binyam Mohamed had been subjected to torture or even "at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment, so let's talk generally.

If you think that torture is wrong then you shouldn't allow MI5 to be involved. Think of the war films in which the enemy are baddies and the British are goodies who comply with things like the Geneva Convention. Have we become the baddies? The UKIP spokesperson wasn't bothered if we did the right thing and Kelvin was much more forceful in his opinions. He thought that a character assasination justified torture. He doesn't believe Mr Mohamed so it doesn't matter what happens to him. He "doesn't care about Guantanamo Bay". "These are dangerous times" but Kelvin, they are dangerous times because we are not the goodies. Sleep deprivation is torture and if Kelvin doesn't believe it then he hasn't been kept awake enough.

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Friday, 12 February 2010

Kirpan or Sgian Dubh?

Are knives dangerous weapons or implements for gentler activities like spreading butter on bread? The answer of course is both, but anything can be dangerous in the wrong hands or in the wrong circustances. I took photographs at a wedding yesterday and the groom wore a kilt. He told me that the sgian dubh, that he carried (the knife in his stocking) was not sharp because of health and safety regulations. I think that was what he said but he definitely couldn't carry a sharp knife. The Sikhs have a similar knife called a kirpan and this was in the news earlier in the week because a Sikh judge had stated that the ceremonial dagger should be allowed in places like schools.

When I was at school knives weren't allowed. It may be that every Sikh youngster is sensible and would not harm anything or any person with their ceremonial knife. It may be that no non-Sikh would do harm with a kirpan. However we live in a much more politically correct time. If we allow Sikhs to carry knives then shouldn't we allow anyone else to do the same including Scottish pupils?

My opinion is that we shouldn't encourage youngsters to carry knives and there may be a compromise as with Scottish formal dress. Can the kirpan have a blunt edge? This wasn't the answer earlier in the week for the judge Sir Mota Singh, but, to put it bluntly (sorry), blunt edges should apply equally to the Scots, to the Sikhs and to anyone else who wants to carry a knife in school.

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Plus ça change (plus c'est la même chose).

Have you seen it all before or do new things develop by revolution or evolution? I was on a course recently and part of the agenda was about managing change. I also managed to get to the theatre and see a Chekhov play. This is a play set in pre-television days and two of the characters had a debate. How often do you see that nowadays? The debate was about change and one argument went along the lines that nothing changes. Just watch the birds fly south. They do this every year. There are definitely climatic cycles and similar human characteristics are seen throughout history. Others will argue that times are changing and if we could stand still we shouldn't. Technology is changing every week or even every day.

So do we learn from history and improve or do we keep making the same old mistakes. I think there is a strong case for making the same old mistakes and that is why it becomes more and more important to provide checks and balances in our society. I like the idea of greater public involvement and Rousseau's belief in direct democracy can be achieved with the help of technology. If we really want to evolve then technology may just be able to help if we use it wisely. Maybe we will change.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Cyril Fletcher finishes this blog

I got back from London yesterday evening so I now have experienced their traffic. I have seen Hammersmith during the rush hour and I have also walked through a lot of central London and I can now tell you that Morecambe traffic is - a lot worse! Maybe Hammersmith does not have the worst traffic in London and there are many areas that are worse but when I got back to Lancaster and caught the bus to Morecambe my memories of standing traffic came flooding back.

Link this blog with that of the 30th January when I first compared our traffic with that of London. I received a comment from Damian Hockney who told me "Michael, sadly it is still London that is more congested. The Congestion Charge has not reduced congestion. It lowered, slightly for a while, the number of vehicles entering, but congestion as measured by road speeds is still at a very similar level."

Well maybe parts of London are worse than Morecambe but does anyone want to beat my 43 minutes to get 4.2 miles. I wrote about this journey on the 28th January. I'll finish this blog by borrowing a phrase from the late Cyril Fletcher from his time on That's life. Morecambe has the worst traffic jams in the country, "unless you know different".

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

How to have good discipline in the classroom

Teacher training was in the news last week as it appears that nearly half of newly qualified teachers do not feel properly equipped to deal with violence in the classroom. Well the biggest weapon in the armoury against indiscipline is a lesson plan. If you keep the class interested in what you are saying then good discipline follows. I know that life is not as simple as that and a lot of children don't know how to behave properly but I have seen a lot of good work in schools.

A couple of years ago I heard a story from someone who was aged around 30. He mentioned that a teacher brought out one pupil who was misbehaving to the front of the class and one smack from a slipper meant that nobody in that class put a foot out of line for the rest of the year. I have a story from the 1970s in which a teacher felt the homework was not good enough and hit every member of the class. I got 10/10 and asked if I had to be hit. The answer was yes. The usual comment after such stories is "and it didn't do me any harm" but I much prefer praise to criticism (or corporal punishment).

There is specific guidance for maintaining discipline in the classroom but this will vary from school to school. In this recent survey 49% of students and newly qualified teachers felt that they had not received enough training to deal with challenging behaviour.Maybe we do have a lack of training, but in my experience I am pleased to say that discipline is often very good indeed and nobody gets hit!

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Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Moral Guidance

So John Terry has been sacked as the England football captain. I'm afraid that I don't read the tabloid press and I don't particularly want to but I have managed to gather that he has been playing away more than he has been playing at home. I don't know what his wife thinks about this. I don't know what anyone connected to the breaking of his marriage vows thinks about it although there may be a great deal written. However I have managed to read that the health minister Mike O'Brien has feels that the decision to take away the captaincy is 'crass'. It doesn't seem to matter that he has to command the respect of his players. I don't know whether he does or he doesn't and I would suggest neither does Mr O'Brien.

If you are a public figure then the press will say what they want regardless of what you would like to see in print. It is not possible to isolate football playing from off-field activities. Having said that there is a very strong argument that what John Terry does on the pitch has nothing to do with what he does off it. My problem with this is that we are saying morals don't matter for role models or for any individual. It's alright to do what you like even if you hurt others as long as you do your job well. We may not want people in the public eye to break the law but a good role model does so much more than stay within legal boundaries.

If anyone wants to comment that it really doesn't matter what high profile people do then you are saying that it really doesn't matter what anyone does. Where does moral guidance come from?

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Monday, 8 February 2010

I know what the public believe

So four politicians are going to face charges relating to their expenses claims. It may be that Liberal Democrats come out of this relatively unscathed, but just like the example in Saturday's blog, it hardly matters to the general public. Tories ignore statistical advice - that's what politicians do. Make mistakes when you move money around after advice from someone that you are not going to name - well it doesn't matter that this is what Labour MP Jim Devine has done. This is what self-regulating politicians do. It doesn't matter that I have never been elected, never mind claimed any expenses, I must be as corrupt as the worst MP.

You know the answers. A system of checks and balances, open government, a fair electoral system... but while we have Tories thinking it is fine to ignore statistical advice and corruption that is alright because a friend of a friend said it was alright then the public will still say that politicians are all as bad as each other. The four are disappointed with the decision to instigate proceedings. In fact they "totally refute any charges". Compare this with one who apologised unreservedly - well there is a reservation - none of his mistakes are illegal. Another is stepping down to avoid any embarrasment. Emabarrasment, stupid mistakes, (un)reserved apologies - I know what the public believe.

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P.S. I wrote this blog before Nick Clegg said the public would be outraged and urged these MPs who are facing charges not to use Parliamentary privilege to avoid court proceedings.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

We were misled

I had switched off the computer during Question Time thinking that I had finished writing blogs for the day, but I had to switch it back when I heard Melanie Phillips talking about whether we were misled into going to war. Her position is that we were not misled. She still supports the war even knowing what she knows now. We weren't taken to war on a lie. Everyone thought that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction but this was not the cause for war, it was his failure to show that his WMD programmes had stopped.

The problem with this is that everyone was listening to the 45-minute risk of being attacked. If that is not being misled then I don't know what is. My MP says that she was misled, but the main evidence is the lack of WMD. Melanie Phillips may change goalposts but even with the move the answer should be that we were misled because we had to pull out the weapons inspectors.

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P.S. I was listening to Alan Johnson on the Andrew Marr show this morning. He tells us that Parliament was not misled and we should read Hansard. The issue was not about whether Iraq had WMD. Well I took up Mr Johnson's advice and here are the opening words of the debate,

That this House notes its decisions of 25th November 2002 and 26th February 2003 to endorse UN Security Council Resolution 1441; recognises that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles, and its continuing non-compliance with Security Council Resolutions, pose a threat to international peace and security...

Does it make you angry when politicians say something so obviously wrong but they appear to be telling the truth? If you are reading this Alan Johnson, please post a comment because now I can't believe a word you say.

P.P.S. Alastair Campbell is getting all emotional saying that the prime minister didn't mislead us. At least he has the decency to think that WMD are important. How he thinks that we weren't misled when there weren't any is beyond me.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Take Statistical Advice

If you want to make a decision you need information. So you may choose to look for help from statistical experts, say for information on crime statistics. You also need to know how the statistics are collected. Take something easy like car drivers breaking the speed limit. It may be that numbers caught go down because drivers are used to the speed cameras or become better drivers. It may be that numbers go up because there are more speed cameras or there is an initiative by the police to catch more people. Do we want more drivers to be caught or do we want better driver education to prevent police intervention? This is a political decision but the bottom line is that you have to have a healthy scepticism when dealing with any figures.

Experts in the field tell us that the Conservatives have presented misleading figures on crime. The Tories are trying to tell us that figures for violent crime have increased but the UK Statistics Authority confirm that the figures used are "not directly comparable" and "likely to mislead". The Conservatives are adamant that the figures "show a big increase in violent crime over the past decade" and they are "going to carry on saying that."

The trouble with the Tory stance is that if you don't take advice from the Authority, refuse to apologise and continue with a misleading stance then the result is that you can't be believed on anything. It doesn't do the Tories any good and unfortunately it doesn't do politics any good.

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Friday, 5 February 2010

Important decisions need to be informed

I wrote a blog on the 10th January. It was about the council acting on behalf of residents. The exact subject doesn't matter but I received a comment asking if I had considered the matter of increased council tax if councils are asked to do more. Voters don't like to pay more council tax. I think I understand this point, but voters also want services.

We want good roads without potholes. Yesterday's local radio news included an article on injuries to cyclists caused by potholes. I would make the same point that the cost of treating injuries to people, vehicles and bicycles may well be less than treating the hole. Does anyone compare the costs to the NHS with the cost to the council? The budgets are separate and voters in local elections don't have to concern themselves with national budgets. And that's the problem.

It sounds like an episode of Yes Minister but this sort of thing goes on all the time. Margaret Thatcher used a divide and rule technique to get the votes that she wanted. We will vote if it suits us. Not only do we vote for self-interest, the more important questions that would inform us about making the best decisions are not even being asked. And when they are asked anonymous commentators tell you that you can't do that because the voters won't vote for it.

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Thursday, 4 February 2010

No slippery slope required

I didn't think that I would be writing about dementia so soon after my blog on Tuesday, but there was a news article on this subject yesterday on Radio Lancashire. The Dementia Society tell us that dementia is the biggest medical challenge of the 21st century and affects over 800 000 of us. They go on to tell us that this figure is 15% higher than previously thought and there is no cure. On the television I heard that if you reach the age of 65 then you have a one in three chance of developing dementia.

However what really caught my attention was a comment from a spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Society who said that "in reality it is a terminal illness and it isn't recognised as that". Now I don't know how this expert defines the word terminal but seeing that people live for years with this diagnosis then we need to use our imagination to connect the words terminal and Alzheimer's. The problem is that if we link this blog with Tuesday's then we find that Terry Pratchett is calling for almost anyone with almost any diagnosis to be able to take their own life. You don't need a slippery slope to get to this stage, just listen to Radio Lancashire.

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P.S. Also on the radio was an interview with the wife of an Alzheimer's sufferer. She mentioned how he looked 'normal' but would wander off and steal things. Well link this with my blog from Monday and all you have to do is to get people like this to wander onto someone else's property. They lose all their rights and get killed legally. Hey presto the problem of the cost of treating people with dementia is solved. You may have guessed that I am using irony to highlight the lack of thought that David Cameron has given to his hug a hoodie - I mean bash a burglar campaign.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Bad luck or just inefficiency?

Yesterday's blog wasn't quite about the meaning of life but it was about the value of life. For a change I'll write about my green wheelie bin for garden waste. On the 11th of January I wrote about how Lancaster City Council had told me on their website that the green bin would not be collected on the 6th January. I was really pleased that I could find out this information at the click of a button. It just so happens that my green bin has been full since the day after it was last emptied on the 9th December.

Unfortunately the website didn't tell me that the bin would not be collected on its next collection date, the 20th January. I left it outside the house for three days before giving up. Today is the next collection date and my bin is outside the house again. I'll let you know if it gets emptied. Unfortunately the council website has not been updated. It still has a picture of Christmas holly. Is this bad luck or just inefficiency?

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Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Primum non nocere

Terry Pratchett has caught the imagination of thousands by writing fantasy books and he is now using his fame to call for assisted suicide "tribunals". He has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and would like the ability to end his own life. Last night he appeared on television when he gave the Dimbleby lecture and he used this platform to put forward his view. In fact, according to one poll he already had the support 73% if the question was about those who are terminally ill. It looks like he doesn't need to persuade anyone. If we are to believe this survey then those who need to do the persuading are those who believe that life is important at any stage and at any level of ability.

It is not uncommon for patients to be diagnosed as terminal and then get better, so my first point would be about the difficulties of defining terminal. Once you have done this then how do you define at what stage the ability to end life should begin? Benjamin Franklin told us that "in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes". Life is terminal and any other definition of when life becomes terminal has its difficulties.

There is nothing wrong with a happy death and we are all looking for that but the term euthanasia has been used to mean the deliberate taking of life. Each attempt to make assisted suicide legal is an affront to less able people. The bottom line is that Terry wants individuals to have the right to take their own life. He may say that the decision is in the hands of tribunals but this is like saying that abortions are not carried out for social reasons. In fact he gave the game away with the emotive "my life, my death, my choice".

What is certain is that if you tell people that some people with certain medical conditions are less worthy of life than others you will get people feeling less worthy. How does this fit in with our equality laws? British doctors used to take the Hippocratic oath which includes the line primum non nocere which means first do no harm. It seems to me that taking life is fairly harmful. Terry is of the opinion that the community is not affected by allowing choice. My view is that everyone is affected by a moral stance made public. Even more so if that person has status brought about by writing fantasy novels. Life is too important to leave to the general public or even educated authors.

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Monday, 1 February 2010

Useless soundbites

Here is one of those soundbites that makes me want to argue with the television. With regards to those people who are in their own home and are burgled, "The moment a burglar steps over your threshold, and invades your property, with all the threat that gives to you, your family and your livelihood, I think they leave their human rights outside". It is quite obviously nonsense but many people will be fooled into thinking that this is talking tough against crime. There was a burglar recently who managed to escape but was beaten up by the homeowner some distance down the street. I hear some readers cheering at this point. Would the cheers still be ringing if it was Charles Bronson and he took out a gun? Alright, now he shoots the burglar dead. Still cheering? Then someone sees the gunman and tries to intervene and gets shot too. Any cheers left?

There are people who wander. There is one on every street. There are people who are invited in but nobody would ever hear about the invitation if they are dead. However if you lose your human rights then what does it matter if you are killed? What about the burglar who is trying to raise money for legal drugs that are not provided by the NHS? What about the burglar who is desperate for any reason? Does he or she deserve to die? Do you have any relatives who are disorientated? Perhaps they will end up beaten to death.

If none of these examples resonate with you then make your own up. Courts can decide who is guilty. We don't need politicians telling us that we are free to do whatever we like even in specific circumstances. if "human rights" can be left at the doorstep then they aren't rights at all, just privileges which the government extends to you and which they can take away again on a whim, whenever they see fit and for any reason or non-reason, and not just because somebody is apparently trespassing. If that is how David Cameron sees human rights then under his government you would have no human rights. The next time you hear a soundbite which doesn't make much practical sense then take a look to see where it comes from.

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