Monday, 31 January 2011

Using Volunteers to a certain degree

On Friday I was looking at how occupational therapists were being replaced by volunteers (friends and relations or anyone else who happened to be handy). Yesterday the question on the local edition of the Politics Show was whether volunteers could work in libraries. The answer is yes. We saw someone filling the book shelves in the correct order. I am sure that volunteers could say hello, point people in the right direction and stamp books in and out. Sometimes advice is needed but I think we should leave that to qualified librarians.

The problem is where do we draw the line? The manager for the library service felt that everything was fine with volunteers. You can imagine the manager a few years ago saying everything was fine without volunteers. If we put a freeze on any post that requires just a little training then that would mean many people with degrees would not be employed. So the argument that we need a highly educated workforce needs to be balanced with the support for the use of volunteers with their more basic knowledge.

My answer, as I have written previously, is that we don't need so many people to have so much expertise, certainly not for employment purposes. Education is great but we are going about it in a very expensive way.

Change the world

Sunday, 30 January 2011

How to be happy

I had a discussion about happiness yesterday and later I read an article on the same subject, so today's blog has to be about happiness. Is it the absence of bad things or is it to do with the presence of good things? Is it related to Beatific Vision or is it caused by social networking? In the words of Ken Dodd happiness is "when I'm in the arms of the one I love" or more simply "happiness is nothing but a frame of mind", but how do you get that frame of mind?

We all want to know the cause of happiness, in particular David Cameron has set aside £2 million for it to be measured in 2012. I am not sure if anyone can pinpoint the cause of their happiness level and David Cameron has said that measuring happiness could be seen as "woolly" and "impractical".

I write this as I watch the lottery draw. I think happiness has very little to do with wealth but it may have a lot more to do with aspiration. Maybe the lottery does us good, it's just that I can't see it. I don't buy into the idea that I would be happy as a millionaire, in fact I think I would make far more enemies than friends if I did win, so I'll just have to be happy writing blogs - that's the key, be happy doing what you do.

Change the world

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Egyptian Emergency

It seems like there's only one item of news at the moment - Egypt. But how to say anything about the situation there that isn't being said in a thousand other blogs? Well, while I was watching the 'all Egypt all the time' news, I heard something that rang a bell. The Egyptian government had introduced a 16-hours a day curfew, meaning that people can only be out for eight hours. They're disabling mobile phone and internet communications, so demonstrators can't coordinate there actions. Where had I heard that before?

A couple of days ago I wrote about how the government announced it was scrapping control orders. These orders placed restrictions on suspects such as 16-hour curfews, and a ban on internet and mobile phone communications. Could it be that the Egyptian government was taking its cue on how to deal with unrest from New Labour?

Control orders were introduced because of an alleged 'ricin plot' where no trace of ricin was ever found. In Egypt buildings have been torched in several cities, protesters are marching everywhere, looting is rife, the cabinet has resigned and the army is mobilised. Whatever you think about the Egyptian government's counter-measures, at least there seems to be a genuine emergency which might justify them. Labour complains about coalition recklessness, saying that the government is "soft on terrorism". They apparently want to keep emergency measures in place. So where is our emergency?

Change the World

Sticking to the speed limit

Which? magazine reckons that the chances of getting caught by a fixed speed camera is a lottery because most of them are not operational. At the time of their study all of the cameras in Sussex were working but this figure was down to 10% in Lancashire. Road safety should not be a lottery but that suggests that fixed speed cameras make our roads safer. I'm afraid that I can't see the correlation.

There is a camera on my road but that didn't stop me writing about a boy racer just two days ago. Speeding is unacceptable, and on Wednesday I was writing about the lowering of the limit on Lancashire's residential roads to 20mph which takes place in 2013. It is just as easy to break a 20mph limit as a 30mph one, so the boy racers will still be around. Also given that the new limit will not apply to commuter routes, trunk roads and main roads, where it seems to me that most speeding occurs, I'd like to see the results of some surveys into where most accidents occur.

This might seem like a waste of time, given that the new limit is going to be implemented anyway, but more people are likely to abide by the limit if they can see the justification for it.

Change the world

Friday, 28 January 2011

A big occupational therapy society

I used to work alongside occupational therapists and far from the caricature of making wicker baskets I thought they did a very professional job helping people adapt their environments so that they could do what they want to do. This is why I was surprised to hear a story yesterday.

A friend phoned and said that her neighbour had been referred to the occupational therapist and rather than get a home visit they had a talk and were given a prescription for aids to daily living. They were to go to a local shop where they would receive the items. Previously there was a home visit, assessment and delivery and fitting of the equipment that was needed. This time my friend had to go to collect the prescription, fit them in the house after adjusting the sizes of some items like a mobility aid.

She phoned up to see why she had been asked to help and was told that family and friends can do such things. She doesn't know this person well and his son lives many miles away. I did not think the big society meant getting rid of some occupational therapists, and the loan stores.

Change the world

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A Liberal Democrat victory

Liberal Democrats promised to scrap control orders in their manifesto. Now control orders are to be scrapped, however we will have "surveillance orders" in their place. A Liberal Democrat victory? I would say yes. Predictably, though, some are saying otherwise.

So are the new surveillance orders actually "control orders lite", as the Telegraph describes them? "Control orders" were all about punishment of people who hadn't been convicted of or even charged with any crime. They amounted to house arrest with tight restrictions. 16-hour curfews meant that a suspect could only be out of the house for a maximum of eight hours per day, and in practice for significantly less than eight if they didn't want to risk cutting it fine. So full-time employment, for instance, was out of the question. Further restrictions included a ban on pre-arranged meetings or gatherings of any kind, and no visitors at home unless they had been vetted in advance. Subjects had to surrender their passports, and could have anything in their premises confiscated and examined at any time. They could not use computers or mobile phones. All of this to continue indefinitely, without any judicial involvement.

"Surveillance orders", by contrast, are about surveillance. Movement is still restricted, but the restriction is the bare minimum that is required for keeping tabs on the suspect. The overnight stay requirement is just eight or ten hours, for instance, and can be waived occasionally to allow travel. Suspects can use mobile phones and internet, provided they give authorities a list of all their passwords. A surveillance order expires after two years, and can only be set up with authorisation from a high court judge.

Even this level of restriction is regrettable, I would say, given that we are talking about "suspects" who haven't been charged with anything; but whatever else might be said about it this is a huge step in the right direction. Limited, judicially-approved oversight replaces unlimited politically-instigated control.

Let's look at some other details: 28 days detention without charge - gone. Council snooping on citizens (justified on anti-terror grounds despite being used almost exclusively for things like checking if a 3-year-old lived in the catchment area of the local nursery) - gone. Stop and Search - now allowed only when a senior police officer "reasonably suspects [that] a terrorist act is anticipated".

Labour, predictably, are apoplectic. Yvette Cooper, new Shadow Home Secretary, for instance describes the ending of 28-day detention as "shocking and cavalier". Labour, if they had their way, would have every restrictive panic measure that they introduced still in place and then some. And yet Ed Miliband has had the nerve to say that Liberal Democrats see Labour as a "vehicle for hope". This would be hilarious, if it wasn't so tragic.

Change the World

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

20mph limit

The news that took my attention yesterday was that all residential roads in Lancashire are going to have a 20mph speed limit. My first thought was that drivers in Morecambe and Lancaster may not be able to drive that quickly, but there are times when the roads are quiet. In fact I was walking the dog at around 11pm on Monday and a car drove past me driving far quicker than the 30mph limit.

This notion of breaking the law regardless of the limit was mentioned on Look North West yesterday. One comment was that if drivers can't keep to the limit at 30mph then they certainly won't at 20mph. It is true that legislation only works with agreement even if that agreement has to be enforced but this is not an argument to keep the speed limit the same. There may be stronger arguments like reducing injuries and saving lives.

Change the world

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Offside remarks

Andy Gray and Richard Keys are in trouble because of their off-air remarks about a female assistant referee. Just in case you didn't see the headlines following the Liverpool Wolves match on Saturday they are heard chatting about how women in general and Sian Massey in particular don't know the offside law. Richard also managed to say "Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her." These views, of course, are "totally unacceptable" Take Rio Ferdinand's view on Twitter: "I'm all for women refereeing in football, discrimination should not happen in our game at all ... prehistoric views if u think otherwise."

Then there is Karren Brady, West Ham vice-chairman, who is unhappy that only females in the football industry are judged by their gender. She reckons this is "categorically wrong". Keys' and Gray's response was the predictably dismissive "See charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah. Do me a favour, love". Which, if it is intended to downplay fears about sexism, fails on many levels.

This issue isn't about the offside rule, it is about sexism. I have no scientific evidence for this but I would guess that in general if I needed to know the offside rule then I would be better asking a male audience. However, Sian Massey is not some randomly chosen female. She is a highly trained and experienced official who has proven her ability. She is also one of only three women who officiate in professional football in England.

Furthermore, on Google searching, I discover that "No one in the western world understands the offside rule"
That being the case, it would seem to be wrong to single out only the females for criticism. And then I discover that there is a perfectly straightforward and comprehensible explanation of the offside rule, but it is one that can only be understood by girls
So maybe I was wrong to assume that a male audience would understand the rule better than a female audience. Maybe it's the other way around.

Change the world.

Monday, 24 January 2011

EMA comment from email

You can almost hear the pupils chanting. What do we want? EMA. When do we want it? Now. The point is that you don't particularly get an unbiased viewpoint about the benefits of EMA if you ask those who are in receipt of EMA. Would you rather have £30 per week or not? The answer is a no-brainer. I gave a brief summary of my thoughts on Wednesday and I added to them on Thursday of last week. Over the weekend I received an email that said I had not considered some of the most critical issues.

One point that was made was that if we don't provide EMAs then less teenagers will continue in education and become ‘NEETs’, teenagers Not in Education, Employment or Training and from here their life chances plummet. The point must surely be that we must support our children to the best of their ability and replacing EMA with better targeting has to be implemented. On its own this is not an argument for keeping EMA. We both agree that a good replacement is required.

They didn't like my idea of giving the money to the parents as this takes away responsibility from the youngster. I am not convinced, for the points that I have already made. It is the family that is assessed as poor not the teenager. I place family cohesion far above student responsibility, and I feel that keeping responsibility with parents would mean more family cohesion and more of the money spent appropriately. This is exactly what happens in families who do not qualify for EMA. "Yes, my son, you can have a new Porsche", but it is the parent who has made the decision not the child.

Change the world.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Morecambe's empty shops and businesses

Imagine you are the owner of a transport business. Let's say you have a dozen lorries and on average ten are used every day. Now let's say that every journey out of the area costs £10 more because you are not sited near the motorway. Finally 80% of your journeys are totally out of area. What this means is that £80 per day is going down the drain because of the site of your business.

If you are setting up a new business then there is no doubt that you will set it up near the motorway. If you have an existing business then you can't help where you are and it will cost you to move, let's say £10000. If you think your business will survive three years in the present economic climate then it is worth moving. The trouble is that I have made up this business and all these figures, and how long you survive is down to your particular business and your particular figures.

I received some information about local transport in Morecambe suggesting that business would not be helped by a link road. There was a lot to the websites to which I was referred and a few blogs may follow, but I couldn't find the evidence to conclude that business would not be helped by the new road. I have written this before in a blog but Morecambe is in an almost unique position. The peninsula has terrible road links and that is why we are near the bottom of the league when it comes to empty shops, but it also affects any business with links outside the area.

Change the world

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Clarke for Chancellor

Clarke Carlisle made news on Thursday by becoming the first footballer on Question Time. He has ten GCSEs and answered his questions well. He reinforced his credentials as a clever player when he told the audience that he voted for the Liberal Democrats. It seems so obvious that Liberal Democrats told the electorate that cuts had to be made and presented the way cuts had to be made.

Cuts are never popular but Clarke was impressed with political honesty. Compare his views with Alan Johnson in my blog on the 9th January. He couldn't remember what was said before the election, made up his own version and made headlines on the news. By his own admission he wasn't very good at economics but left the post of Chancellor for personal reasons. Then he gets the plaudits for being a great politician. I was thinking Clarke would have made a better chancellor.

Change the world

Friday, 21 January 2011

Lancaster Castle closure

In my photography blog you can see photos of York as I was there a couple of days ago. I live near Lancaster and if I had to choose between the two cities I would take into account how much there is to do and the historic buildings. York wins hands down. However my preference is for Lancaster. I know that as a Lancastrian I am biased but bigger isn't always better and the big difference for me is the physical geography. There is another dimension to Lancaster with its rolling hills.

I may not have convinced you but Lancaster does have a tremendous castle. The trouble is that you have to be a criminal to fully appreciate it. The good news is that Ken Clarke announced last week that Lancaster Castle prison will be closing in March and there are plans to turn it into a tourist attraction. This is exactly what Lancaster needs but not everyone sees it as good news.

There is a cost to changing the role of the castle. It has been a prison for centuries and nobody will ever get through its walls, but times have changed. Can you imagine the American reaction if they had such a building. We should appreciate our history too. Prison officers aren't too keen on the closure but that is only to be expected. The Green Party have expressed concern but reports in the local paper don't give details of their opposition.

If I showed you photos of Lancaster's Roman heritage you may laugh when compared to York's. Lancaster Castle is a great asset and we need to make better use of it.

Change the world (or at least the Lancaster Castle bit)

Thursday, 20 January 2011

EMA and paid employment

Thanks for your comment yesterday Sea. The spirit in accepting EMA is really important because it relates to the motivation of the pupil. I had a couple of conversations yesteday which were also related to yesterday's EMA blog. I was talking with someone who had worked in human resources and he told me that school or university leavers who have worked part-time are generally better organised and more mature. They are better at time management and better equiped for life. I think that was roughly what they said. I would imagine that all these factors are greatly magnified if there is a financial need to work.

Compare that with my other conversation. I was told that a youngster had given great detail of her amazing work experience at 17. This person was born with a silver spoon and had managed to find work experience at school which enabled her to participate in life experience that most of us never gain. The description of this experience sounded at best arrogant and at worst life threatening.

Andy Burnham doesn't like the thought of our teenagers going out to work, however work and its values are usually a good thing, but they can be too good. We still have to look out for nepotism, arrogance and exaggeration but these are usually easy to spot.

Change the world

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Why I don't support EMA

Cutting the education maintenance allowance (EMA) affects 16 to 19 year-olds who come from poorer backgrounds and choose to stay in education. The argument for giving the students up to £30 per week is that the country will gain by raising levels of education, the individual gains an education and we save money on benefits while the youngsters look for work. There is also a case to say that part-time work is avoided and gives the student longer to study.

The case against EMA is that it is not targeted correctly, most teenagers would still stay in full-time education anyway and it is an area for Government saving which is so badly needed. It may be that the argument for part-time work is a red herring as those in receipt of EMA may be much more likely to also have a job.

I happened to be in Lancaster when the students were protesting for the first time. I spoke with a local headmaster who was observing the protest but had given his pupils the option of protesting at the school gates in their lunchtime. The pupils preferred to take time off lessons. Let the students demonstrate as much as they like, but they should do it in their own time. Their attitude hardly showed a positive concern for their education. The national news also showed how demonstrators may have ulterior motives.

However my main argument against EMA is the way it is delivered. There are poor families who need help but the financial assistance is given to the pupil. This means that the money is more likely to find its way to visits to the cinema or hairdresser or the pub. If the money is given to parents then I would suggest that it is much more likely to find its way to the bookshop or pay for bus tickets. My biggest concern is that inadequate parents (inadequate only in the financial sense) find they are more inadequate and the only person in the household with any spare cash may be the teenager. I find this a scenario which is unlikely to ease family tension. Poor families should be supported but I don't think EMA is the best way forward.

Change the world

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

What makes you angry?

If I didn’t get the right change I would complain. If someone stole a fiver from my wallet I might feel brave enough to chase after them. As far as I am concerned property isn’t theft but you can steal property and some of it is mine. You see I can get fairly emotional about relatively small matters. That’s why I feel strongly about MPs, or anyone for that matter, who steal thousands of pounds. That’s why I feel really strongly when white collar crime takes much more money from its correct owner.

That is why it is really important to catch tax thieves, so if whistleblower Rudolf Elmer wants to expose mass tax evasion then good luck to him. It is really important to stop these criminals. Mr Elmer gave Wikileaks evidence of such crimes but he returns to Switzerland to stand trial for his crime of passing on this information. What really makes me angry is the idea that we can protect the guilty and prosecute those who try to correct the situation.

Change the world

Monday, 17 January 2011

Where to make the cuts.

You often hear that politicians don't go into politics to make cuts, but this is exactly what is happening almost everywhere you look. How do you decide which areas should be saved from cuts? The NHS is often put forward as a sacred cow but I think there is room for saving. I am not entirely convinced of NHS priorities and some people wait longer when a greater priority comes along. These greater priorities are often other medical conditions but they could be financial restraints too.

Education is another area that could cope with cuts. I have written previously about the definition of matriculation. I have nothing against education. I would make it my personal priority if I were in control of the budget. It may be a priority but that doesn't mean I couldn't find an area for cuts. Art galleries, museums and libraries are closely related to education. In fact I went to a couple of museums yesterday and highly informative they were too. The trouble is that there are not many people who shared my experience and I could have done with a lot more time than I had.

Virtual museums may open them up to many more people and save a lot of money. This would not be popular with the establishment but change never is. You may not receive a certificate a degree for visiting a museum but, as the Open University demonstrates, there are much cheaper ways of improving knowledge.

Change the world

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Sounds like spin

In the wake of the by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth, Ed Miliband has called for disaffected Liberal Democrats to work with Labour against the planned cuts agenda. He has refused to gloat at the decline of the Liberal Democrats but I am afraid that I have to inform him that the percentage vote for the Liberal Democrats went up.

It seems that it was a "tragic mistake" for the Liberal Democrats to enter into a coalition with the Tories, but far from being a mistake, I saw no option but to form a coalition with the Tories. A recent questionnaire sent to all members in my constituency confirmed this as the general view. I don't know of any member in my constituency who has turned away from the party because of the coalition, but Ed tells us that thousands of Lib Dems had joined the Labour Party. I think that is what he said but I am not quite sure. He may equally have been talking about people who said they had voted for the Liberal Democrats but would now vote Labour. I guess that is how he is making up his figures.

Ed stumbled over the words voters and supporters and managed to correct himself to say voters and members. I suspect that the actual wording was high on the agenda of Ed's preparatory meeting. I hope you were fighting for the word supporter and lost out to a nameless spin doctor who told you to say that thousands of members had defected. I suspect Ed would also say the decline of the Liberal Democrats is seen in the polls and not the by-election. Ed, we want our politicians to be honest and what you are saying just sounds like spin.

Change the world

Saturday, 15 January 2011

One "Clear Message" from Oldham

It looks like most candidates in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election can claim some success or at the very least suggest that they could have done worse if it were not for their robust campaign. How do you stand for the abolition of gravity and manage to win 145 votes? The trouble with everyone claiming success is that there is only one winner and all the other candidates lost, but that's the nature of the first-past-the-post system. For this reason it is impossible to be forthright when it comes to explaining how the electorate has spoken.

All parties will argue that the voters supported them in some way. The overall majority was 3,558 or 10.2% of those who voted. I am more interested in those who are eligible to vote, but didn't as they are truly disenfranchised. The turnout was only 48.1% of the electorate and this means that 4.9% of the electorate made all the difference. Less than one person in twenty made the difference.

You will hear all parties claiming a good result but it is the Labour voice that is loudest. Ed Miliband claims that the victory sends a "clear message" to the Government about the rise in VAT, tuition fees and cuts. No it doesn't. The only clear message I get is that our voting system cannot hope to reflect the views of the electorate. We don't know anything about the detailed wishes of any of the individual voters, but Ed, we do know that Labour won with votes from 20.25% of the electorate and 79.75% of them didn't vote for the winner. Let's hope that Ed's "first step in a long journey" includes support for electoral reform.

Ed if you want to hear the clear message on the streets then unfortunately you will hear that most people aren't interested in politics. While I would have liked to see the Liberal Democrats fare better in this election, there is at least one good thing to have come out of it. A Labour candidate who ran a clean campaign improved on the result of one who ran on lies and inflammatory racist rhetoric. It would in many ways have been a sad moment for democracy if it had been the other way round. So I would like to congratulate both new MP Debbie Abrahams and the Labour electorate who voted for her, for showing that dirty tricks aren't necessary or even helpful, that Labour was able to get more votes without them than with them.

Change the world

Friday, 14 January 2011

Snakes and Ladders - RIP Gerry Rafferty

I was sorry to hear of the recent death of Gerry Rafferty partly because I liked his music and partly because I read that he died after a long illness at the age of 63. I remember listening to him when he was part of The Humblebums with Billy Connolly but he will mostly be remembered for one song, Baker Street. And this was the motivation to write this blog.

Gerry was receiving £80 000 in royalties each year for this one song. This sounds really good for a singer who was ill, but compare that with an average annual salary. Then think about singers who have had two hits, or three or four. Also bear in mind that Gerry must have been receiving something from all of his other recordings, but nobody is mentioning the amounts. Presumably they pale into insignificance when compared with that one hit. The recording industry seems to be like a giant lottery, with a few conspicuous winners and lots of losers.

Gerry began as a busker. His recording career certainly brought in more than busking would have done, but there were many ups and downs in his career. He was never comfortable with live performance, he had to struggle with legal problems after the breakup of Stealers Wheel, and in 1983 he stopped writing and recording songs, and he was a recluse for many years. I can't help wondering what his life might have been like without so many "snakes and ladders".

I often criticise footballers and one reason for the criticism is the amount of money that Premier League players receive. You don't have to go too far down the football leagues to find players who earn much less. It sounds like it is the same in the music industry.

Change the world

Thursday, 13 January 2011

A defense of racism

My namesake, former Detective Superintendent Mick Gradwell has come out in support of Jack Straw's controversial remarks about the problem with some members of the Pakistani community. The problem I have with Jack's remarks is that they are racist. Let me try to put this into context. I don't know where Mick Gradwell lives but let's say that you can work out a square mile that includes his house which may also include the highest numbers of rapists or any other criminals you care to mention. Try to think of a crime that you would find particularly distasteful. Then publish the comment that Mick Gradwell lives in this area. Then tell Mick he has to go around with a badge saying that he lives in this area.

This is exactly what has happened with Jack's remarks. He has identified a group that we can all recognise and said they are associated with crime. Mick's views are based on working in Blackburn in the 1970s. So if he had worked in Arnside would he have a different view?

From what I have read Mick is a clever person so how does he fail to see the overt racism in Jack's remarks? I am particularly concerned because Mick's words have been widely reported, not just in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, but also by the BBC and the Independent. I hope that nobody who knows me would mistake his words for anything I might utter, but we do share the same name so I suppose there is some potential for confusion. This wouldn't matter when Mick is just talking about the latest police community initiative but it does in this case.

The best rebuttal of what Jack Straw said that I've found so far is by Yvonne Ridley, at,
It's purely a coincidence, by the way, that her remarks on the subject were published on the same day as mine and that we both used the headline "The last straw?", or maybe it's a case of great minds thinking alike. Anyway, I'd like to draw your attention to her words

"As a journalist of more than 35 years, I’ve sat through countless court cases and trials and listened to similar, horrific stories pour forth. As long as there are vulnerable young women, of no particular faith and skin color, they will be targeted by criminally-driven men of no particular faith and skin colour."

but please read the whole of it - it's all good.

Change the world

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Maybe voters prefer dishonest politicians!

I had an interesting conversation last week with someone who told me that they voted for a Liberal Democrat minister but would not do so again because they had changed their tune - mostly over tuition fees. I did say that you can't really criticise a minister because they have ministerial responsibility to support government policies. They can't say what they want to say and it is up to other Liberal Democrats to come up with party policies.

I mentioned the scenario in which a prospective MP says one thing, becomes a member of a coalition government and says his (or her) views had to be modified. Should the MP be criticised for their honesty? The conversation took a strange turn. The reply was they wouldn't vote again for this MP. My reply was that they wouldn't vote for them because they had been honest.

Maybe voters prefer dishonest politicians!

Change the world

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

David Chaytor's punishment

Should David Chaytor have been jailed? He was an "honourable" member of the House of Commons who decided to use the expenses system to steal around £20,000. It was a white-collar crime, not a crime against the person. I also understand that he paid back the money, he said sorry and he did plead guilty to save the taxpayer a lot of money. Surely a punishment like community service or a fine should be enough?

On the other hand he did try to evade justice and find sanctuary in Westminster. He is not only a thief, but a thief in a position of authority. As a Member of Parliament he could tell us how to live our lives and he was breaking the law at the same time. In his position of responsiblity he should have known better and been a good role model. He let us down and so deserves a greater punishment. Common thieves are sent to prison and so should he.

The long and short of it is that the judge is the expert in this field. I don't know whether this sentence is harsh or lenient but I am willing to accept the decision. Many of his former constituents are calling for a greater punishment but let's leave it to the professionals.

Change the world

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Last Straw?

Jack Straw says, in the wake of the conviction of two men of Asian background for multiple rapes and sexual assaults, that "there is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men... who target vulnerable young white girls" and predictably two camps form, one rejecting his claim while the other backs it fully and wonders why he didn't speak up earlier. The problem is that the facts are in danger of becoming lost, at least among the supporting faction.

The judge himself had said he did not believe that the crimes were racially aggravated, so what is it that makes Jack think he is more knowledgable about this case than the judge? Young men were "fizzing and popping with testosterone", he suggests, but girls from the Pakistani community were "off limits", leading them to seek other outlets for their desires.

Which seems to me to be ignoring the facts that Abid Saddique and Mohammed Liaqat, the two recently convicted men were members of a gang, several of whom had been convicted earlier, at least one of whom (Graham Blackham) was white. The gang certainly targeted vulnerable young girls, but the victims cannot be identified for legal reasons, and any potentailly identifying information must also be withheld for the same reason, and I haven't seen any mention of their race except for Mr Straw's comments, so I suspect that the "white girls" reference was just unwise speculation on his part. In any case it was the vulnerability of the victims, and not their race, which led to their being targeted.

I wonder why Jack suggests that race had anything to do with it. Whatever his motive it would be nice to think that his outburst will not fuel racial tension.

Change the world

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Oh dear, it's Alan Johnson

It is unusual for me to write two blogs on the same day but I couldn't let Alan Johnson's remarks go without comment. I have just seen him on the news and it was only for a few seconds but he managed to say "it is really significant that we start the year with a broken promise because both parties (he meant in the coalition) said they wouldn't increase VAT". Oh dear. Alan happens to be the Shadow Chancellor and he doesn't know what the Liberal Democrats said before the last election. How does he get away with it?

In the few seconds that Alan was on the news he also managed to say that VAT hits the poorest. Well why would Alistair Darling as Chancellor support a rise? I wrote recently that there is some relationship between VAT and wealth so Labour Chancellors may choose to support such a rise. I don't mind whether the present Labour Shadow Chancellor supports the rise, I would just like him to tell the truth before saying that the Liberal Democrats have broken a promise.

Change the world

Granada bias

Yesterday I described Ed Miliband as a politician who wants political advantage but for some reason said that he didn't when describing his attitude towards marriage. He visited Oldham East and Saddleworth to support the Labour candidate - nothing wrong with that. He was looking for political advantage. What I object to is how it was reported.

Amy Welch described Ed's visit for Granada Reports. The first bit was alright: "more big-name politicians have taken to the streets". I am sure that prominent politicians from all parties have made visits and she did mention William Hague and Chris Huhne. However it was when she described Ed's reception by Labour supporters as an "overwhelming show of support" that I got suspicious. They would support him wouldn't they? William Hague was heckled but I don't think he would have been if surrounded by Tory supporters. Would Ed have been heckled among Tory supporters?

Amy went on to describe Ed's support for their candidate in "a seat they never should have lost". Why not? Is Amy telling us that the disgraced former MP for the area was not a disgrace? Is she saying that Elwyn Watkins could not have won the seat in the general election? I'm not sure what she means and I don't think Amy knows either.

Change the world

Saturday, 8 January 2011

A politician who doesn't want political advantage!

What people in general and politicians in particular believe is most important, closely followed by what they say. This has been the main point of the last two blogs and then along comes an example when Ed Miliband is interviewed by Jeremy Vine. One question was about commitment. Should Ed be committed to marriage in order to show commitment to his policies? Mariage may call for a deeper commitment than a couple who are living together but it is quite possible that non-married couples show greater commitment than married ones.

The trouble for Ed is that he wants to show support for marriage but chooses to delay his personal commitment, and by so doing supports non-married couples. He is "absolutely commited" to his partner but doesn't want to rush in to marriage for the sake of gaining political advantage. Why not? Why doesn't he want political advantage? The answer of course is that he does want political advantage. He wants the support of all whether married or not. He is saying both groups are absolutely fine and he is living proof of this. My simple answer is that he is not supporting marriage.

A private life is private but some politicians choose to blur the distinction between their public and private lives when they mention their family. The politician may be a family person with family values and they publicise this to gain political advantage, but they can hardly complain when a child makes the news because of the link that they created. Ed has not just blurred the distinction between what is private and what is public, he has done away with any distinction.

Change the world

Friday, 7 January 2011

The merit of merit

I know that many voters are influenced by the good or bad looks of our politicians. I sat next to a female with the Guardian in hand on the day that Paddy Ashdown was elected leader. She told me that he was good-looking and she might vote for him.

You know my views on image from yesterday's blog but if you took the view that attractive politicians gain more votes then tomorrow's MPs should be working out in the gym rather than learning how to control an economy. If this is the case then women have the advantage over men and we wouldn't need women-only shortlists.

In yesterday's blog I wrote that what people believe and say is much more important than how they look. It is the same with the selection process for our future MPs and they too should be selected on merit.

Change the world

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Image isn't everything

Image is really important in politics. It matters how you look and how you dress. I know you can think of some ugly politicians but it does matter how you look. Don't get me wrong, as for me what people say is much more important than their image.

In 1985 I was an OU student when they won University Challenge. In their (our) team was a driver's mate, not even a driver, who won the competition almost single-handedly. He had an obvious stutter but the main thing for me was that he was a great role model. It doesn't matter who you are or what you do, you can still beat the elite.

It's the same in politics. For me it doesn't matter what people look like, whether they have a stutter or whether they are a driver's mate. What they believe and what they say are much more important.

Change the world

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Premier League in safe hands

There was an interesting interview with the new chairman of Blackburn Rovers on the radio yesterday. He sacked manager Sam Allardyce and replaced him with an inexperienced first team coach. This was for the short term and now it is longer term but the handling of the change of managers was not good for PR. The main news yesterday was that Rovers are interested in signing Ronaldinho and David Beckham but who is doing the organising?

Just because you have plenty of money doesn't mean that you have a good team. It is a very good start but the manager should be looking at which players can play together. The really interesting news from the interview was that the Indian owners have not seen any matches but they watched the World Cup because it was on in India, and the chairman's brother is very knowledgeable on football (or was it soccer?)

It is good to know that Premier League football is in safe hands.

Change the world

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Why spoil a good VAT story for the sake of the facts.

Well the rise in VAT to 20% is upon us and according to Ed Milliband it will cost families £389 per year. He didn't work this figure out as he just took it from a Liberal Democrat poster from the general election. As this figure is at least eight months old and was based on what the Tories would have to do in order to pay for their other tax promises and as we have had so much turmoil in the government finances, it would seem to me that this figure is out of date. It has not only been arrived at in the most lazy way but is also inaccurate, but why spoil a good story for the sake of the facts.

What does the change in VAT mean to you? It is such a complicated tax that it probably means nothing. It may also mean nothing in practice as many companies will disguise the 2.5% rise by making cuts elsewhere. Have you seen any adverts saying "we pay the VAT"? I have. It is a meaningless advert as the purchaser pays, but adverts often mislead. Maybe sellers will reduce their profits but that's not quite the same thing as paying the VAT.

VAT is not my ideal tax. I know that there is some correlation between wealth and expenditure as I will never be taxed for buying a luxury yacht. VAT is one of the most complex ways of raising revenue but it has the advantage of hiding the fact that you are raising money from earnings. I like simple answers and I also like taxation related to earnings. No government would be popular for shifting VAT totally on to income tax but it would certainly make a lot of lives simpler if we could get rid of a cumbersome system. We may even afford a few cuts in the civil service with no loss of service.

Change the world

Monday, 3 January 2011

No-story stories

I bought a tabloid Sunday newspaper yesterday. I like contentious political remarks and I also like political comments with which I can strongly agree. I have read the political pages in this paper and my one strong resolution is not to buy this paper again. I may break this rule if they give away a DVD that I want to watch but it certainly won't be for the paper.

There were three political stories. I'll just mention one. It started with a conditional sentence and then gave no evidence that the first set of circustances could ever occur. It was a no-story story. I don't want to identify this paper so I'll make another story up. If MPs were paid nothing then would this affect our parliamentary system? Then I would write a few paragraphs and call it news.

The Daily Telegraph (it wasn't the Sunday Telegraph yesterday) tried a variation on this technique recently. They had no story so they sent undercover reporters to get ministers to say that they don't believe in every government policy. I really think you could do this with any minister but they picked on Liberal Democrats. I wonder why?

Change the world

Sunday, 2 January 2011

To Thine Own Self Be True

If you want to know how to come to a decision then you may be forthright and have an answer yourself but you may be wrong. The best answers come from people who know the questions well and that isn't necessarily the person who makes the decisions. However, on Wednesday I wrote that you can't trust the general public all the time. There are many reasons for this. A decision may be easy to take if you don't have to bear the responsibility for that decision. Even academic groups may only have knowledge in one particular area and they may not have the best answers and I often see "experts" who have no reason to call themselves experts apart from being in the public eye.

There are so many reasons why one particular answer may not be the best one. In the social sciences there may be many answers and you just pick the one you like the most. In general I like to hear what the public have to say. Fifty complaints to the BBC may be meaningless if you don't agree with them or it may be really important if you happen to agree with those fifty. Regardless of whether you are in the majority or the minority the important part is to believe in your decision. The only difference is that if you have the majority with you then you are more likely to be in a position to make the decision.

Change he world

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Smokers think twice

It is a new year and I suppose there will be many resolutions made about losing weight, getting fitter or earning more money. I don't suppose there will be many resolutions about putting litter in bins but there is an article in this week's local paper about fines for dropping cigarette butts. I am not exactly sure how much it costs to drop a cigarette butt as the newspaper also reports that litter was dropped as well and the three people that are mentioned also incur costs and a victim surcharge whatever that is.

It sounds like you have to jump through a few hoops before you get fined but it is nice to hear that something is being done about litter as I am a great believer that we should be disciplined over small matters and then there will be more control over more important matters. The lack of care that many of us show in keeping the country tidy is one such aspect. I have seen bags of fast food rubbish being thrown from a car window for the rubbish to lie in the street until a council worker comes along to pick it up. There is litter on the street and when my Canadian relatives come to visit they comment on the British attitude to dropping litter.

The trouble with smokers is that they don't think that their cigarette butts are litter. Maybe they will think twice now but somehow I think it will take a little longer to sink in that they are dropping litter.

Change the world