Thursday, 31 March 2011

Frontline Police Officers

David Cameron tell us that there is no reason why there has to be fewer frontline police officers. He defends this by saying that the Labour Party would have made cuts too. Not the strongest defence to a statement telling the police that they don't have to make cuts. David did go on to say that cuts would mean freezing police pay, reform allowances (I think that means cuts) and cut down on paperwork. It isn't that long ago that I heard of police cuts affecting frontline officers but let's take their word now that 12% cuts could be absorbed.

The claim that no frontline officers should be lost begs the question can we lose non-frontline staff? Let's agree with David and say these staff are unnecessary. Let's agree and say the police force should have their pay frozen. This means they are effectively worth less because of inflation. Let's say they should receive less in allowances and their paperwork isn't important. It strikes me that even if all these factors were present we would not have a good staff morale among officers and if morale falls so does effectiveness and efficiency.

Change the world

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A legal minefield

There is a definite big society. Mike Harding was talking about voluntary groups who look after theatres, and individuals who help people with broken down cars or fall over. Yesterday Baroness Newlove, whose husband Garry was murdered by a gang of teenagers in 2007, said that "crime should not be seen as someone else's problem". I agree. If we turn away when something is going wrong then more will go wrong. Policing is only possible with consent. If we all became thieves or if we all started rioting then the police force could not cope. I hope that most of us would attempt to stop crime even if we put ourselves at some risk because failure to do so would lead to a crime spree.

One of Baroness Newlove's suggestions was to allow local people to combat anti-social behaviour. Give out speed guns and enforce speed limits. Go one further and allow locals to set the speed limit. It all sounds very good but it is slightly more difficult in practice. I am quite capable of working a speed gun but would I pick on the right people? How would I know if I was doing a good job or antagonising people I don't like. What would stop me being a vigilante? You may think vigilante is a good word but it means you are acting illegally. It means that you become judge and jury. You may even end up like Charles Bronson. I hear some cheers but it isn't good. Think of a remake of Death Wish but this time make it a horror.

It is a really good idea to encourage individuals to support law and order, to even give assistance to those in authority, but to give over authority to amateurs is a legal minefield.

Change the world

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Straight talking politicians

I have been gadding about recently. I was watching Mike Harding on Sunday and last week I saw The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. There was a quote in the programme from the author Douglas Adams who said 'A learning experience is one of those things that say "You know that thing you just did? Don't do that"'.

Do you call a spade a spade? It sounds like a good idea because you often hear politicians answer a question which has not been asked. They make up their own answers if they don't like the question. No spades there, however there are plenty of examples when it is better to keep quiet. The trouble for politicians is that they are often asked their opinion and an honest answer may be confrontational.

There is another quote from the show by a character called Zaphod Beeblebrox. "I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer." Now wouldn't that be nice to hear from a politician? I won't hold my breath.

Change the world

Monday, 28 March 2011

Lancaster's Big Society

I was watching Mike Harding at the Lancaster Grand Theatre a few hours ago. He is still hearing waves of laughter after all these years. I was speaking to the people sat next to me and they saw him in 1983. I saw him in 1978 at the Manchester Palace. Doesn't time fly! The reason why I am mentioning him is because he spoke about the big society. Some things get him mad and this is one of them. He told the audience that we have always had a big society. If someone's car breaks down then people go and move it. If an old lady falls over people go and help.

The point is the audience were right with him. They don't know what the big society means and neither do I. If we are relying on volunteers then we already have them. If anyone has a desire to help anywhere then it may take a bit of effort but they can do it. I haven't heard of anything that makes it easier to volunteer.

At the end of the show Mike gave a special thanks to the volunteers who run the Grand Theatre. There is the big society.

Change the world

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Bridging the gap between rich and poor

I returned from a visit to Glasgow yesterday. You may know that I have a keen interest in art and photography and I did visit the art galleries as well as look at Glasgow's many items of street art. I noticed no signs to stop flash photography which would damage the paint on canvas. It wouldn't do any harm to statues but there are often restrictions stopping any form of flash photography anwhere in galleries and museums. I didn't see any signs and I didn't see any flashes. I took some photos without flash and I'll show you some of them in the next week or so if you look at my photography blog.

The point I would make in this blog is that someone has to pay for street art. Everyone who walks in the street can appreciate it. You don't have to pay an entrance fee for the galleries but you do have to be motivated enough to see what is inside so mostly the options are there for rich and poor alike. Whilst in Glasgow l heard Ed Balls response to the budget. I heard him apologise for not listening to Vince Cable. I think that's what he said but it may just have been an apology for the rest of the world causing Britain's economy to fail. Then he said something about Labour not managing to decrease the gap between the rich and the poor. I didn't hear an apology for this but if Labour couldn't do anything to bridge this gap in thirteen years then I think it is fair to say that they would never bridge the gap. At least Glasgow and its council is doing something for equality of opportunity with its street art and its galleries and museums.

Change the world

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Photography and Politics

Today I will join my two blogs as I am showing you amendments to a photograph which then became a political leaflet.

On the left is the photo you saw yesterday in the photography blog. It has already been cropped significantly and you will also notice that Lancaster Cathedral has been removed. Increasing the brightness and decreasing the contrast makes it the background in the election leaflet on the right. As for the politics, this is an amendment to the leaflet which was seen on Thursday which showed Morecambe Town Hall in the background. It is a simple explanation of how voting will take place on May 5th and readers of the political blog will know that a full explanation of our present system takes longer than an explanation of the Alternative Vote.

Happy snapping

Friday, 25 March 2011

Disruption at a council meeting

There was a disruption to the Morecambe Town Council meeting last Thursday. I read in the local newspaper that two police community support officers arrived and asked a member of the public to leave. According to the chairman this person "made allegations about us being crooks". On the other hand the member of the public said that the council had no respect for democracy.

The bottom line for the police was that there was no breach of the peace as he was not being abusive. They had been called for disruption but "he was simply expressing his right to freedom of speech".

It may just be the way that it was reported, but if someone is asked to do something by a PCSO then I think it should be done. I am not a lawyer but I am sure that there is room for debate about the law on freedom of speech. Are you allowed to insult someone? Are you allowed to call someone a crook? If you think the word crook is mild then make the word a little more offensive and keep doing that until you decide that words alone may be abusive. Perhaps I should observe the next council meeting.

Change the world

Thursday, 24 March 2011

An attack on democracy

There are some things that are more important than democracy but they shouldn't be confused with democracy and in particular with the move towards AV as these things are not mutually exclusive. I am quite keen, for example, that we don't have jet fighters firing on us. I am also not keen on dictators, especially the evil ones, and democracy is one safeguard in the fight against totalitarian states.

So the first defence of democracy is to ensure participation by citizens. In its simplest form this means going to put a cross on a piece of paper every few years. And that's the problem. If we can't get people to do this then we have a broken democracy. Add to that the present system in which votes rarely count and you start to see why change must take place.

If you know the story of Les Mis then you know that some people have been willing to build barricades and give up their lives for political change. It puts a simple referendum in perspective and if anyone tells you that democracy is expensive then the absence of democracy can cost so much more.

Change the world

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The value of democracy

As I drove to work yesterday I was listening to Ted Robbins on Radio Lancashire talking about what makes us protest. If you get motivated to protest then there is a good chance that others will protest for exactly the opposite reasons. I often sign petitions especially online as it is so convenient. I am not sure if it is a claim to fame but my name was on the front page of the Independent a couple of years ago as I signed their online petition about electoral reform.

It isn't a protest but our last political leaflet was an AV special explaining why we should vote yes on May 5th. Opponents in the no camp tell us that reform would cost millions. That's all very interesting but they need to tell us how much our present system costs and perhaps they should tell us how much their campaign costs too if they want the electorate to have an informed choice. Most of all, they need to explain the value they put on democracy because our system is broken - that's one of the main reasons I joined the Liberal Party in 1970s Manchester. If you don't value democracy then the cheapest option is to abolish it. We would save millions in one swift move.

Change the world

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

What do independents stand for?

The membership card for Liberal Democrats carries the first sentence of the preamble to the constitution. It reads "The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which noone shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity".That's not a bad sentence but the point I would emphasise is about party funding. If your money comes from unions or from big business then you could not use the same sentence in your preamble. Well you might try to use it but it just wouldn't ring true.

You may guess that I like independence. I want my policies to be written by party members, not by paid officials who serve their master. I would like independent politicians without reservation but I do have a proviso. How do you know what an independent politician is thinking. You may know this person very well and that's fine, but the chances are that you don't.

In Morecambe we have an Independent Party and some independent councillors. A couple of days ago I received a postcard sized leaflet entitled "Independence 4 Morecambe". I think it is another 'independent' party which split off from the other party - why I am not sure. The leaflet mentions words like integrity and decency but I don't know what they stand for. I think all parties and independent candidates use words like this. However they do tell us in the next few weeks that they will tell us what they want to do. That's quite a statement. I look forward to reading their constitution.

Change the world

Monday, 21 March 2011

A taxing situation

If you don't like what the government is doing then shouldn't you say what you prefer? It seems obvious to me that an opposition should set out an alternative way forward but the Labour Party is reluctant to say anything because this leaves it open to attack. In 1992 the Tories advertised Labour's tax bombshell which would cause everyone to pay £1000 extra in tax per year.

According to Margaret Beckett it would be wrong to give too much detail about their plans. "It'd be folly to try and make proposals that are too detailed now", she said. But their 1992 problems arose from being up-front just three weeks before the election. We're currently several years away from the next election, probably. So, if it's folly three weeks before an election, and it's folly several years before, then when is a good time?

Ed Balls clearly said on yesterday's Politics Show that detail should not be given. Liam Byrne gave some detail (with a broad brush) of what he said Labour's plans had been, and then said things will get clearer and clearer in the future.

What about Labour's current broad-brush plans? "The broad direction, of tackling the deficit, absolutely we have got to constantly reinforce that", Liam said. "But we've got to do something else, which is show how Britain can get more people back to work if only George Osborne would listen."

So we have to tackle the deficit and get George Osborne to listen. I'm glad we got that cleared up. The message from a Pollster focus group was that Labour are the reason that we are in the mess now and they have given no detail of their alternative. Is their plan to cut the deficit going to be dealt with by taxation or by cuts.? Are you clear?

Change the world

Sunday, 20 March 2011

How many politicians can say this?

I called round to see someone who had asked for my help yesterday. I was putting out our March leaflet at the time so it was easy to knock on the door. I was invited in and I mentioned that he had not added any comments to my blog. He has my email address and can email me if he wishes me to add any comments. I went on to tell him that I had gone to two councillors and one council officer for him and I passed on the information that I had been given.

He also mentioned another matter, a roundabout at the junction between Broadway and the promenade. He had read a previous leaflet which mentioned our support for the roundabout. We had carried out a survey of the whole of Broadway and surrounding areas, and we had come across spontaneous support for the roundabout. This man told me that he didn't think that we had knocked on every door on Broadway. It's a shame really as I said he could come to my house to look at all the results which are on my computer but he did not wish to take me up on this offer.

I think councillors generally work hard and are honest people and they could do without unfounded claims that they are not telling the truth. Still, I hope he realises the efforts that I have made on his behalf but I am not even sure if he appreciates that he said that I wasn't telling the truth. What I do know is that he may well see this blog and he will have the opportunity of putting his side. How many politicians say that? By the way, the irony has not passed me by when you compare this blog entry with that from yesterday.

Change the world

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Political Leaflets

We have been putting out regular leaflets in Morecambe which will hopefully turn into votes for the May elections. I live in a residential area with a leaning to the right so how do we get our message across. The first method is to let the electorate know that you are working. That means leaflets and it means this blog. It means replying to enquiries which range from conversations in the street to blog comments to replies on the tear-off section on each of the leaflets. I think that is all that is needed for most voters. They want to know that the candidate will work for the area and if any member of the public does engage with us then they will know that we work.

Compare this with our county councillor. He switched sides prior to the last election and still managed to win even though we have not heard from him before or since that time. The county division includes another ward which leans to the left. He is not a threat in this election but obviously relied on national developments for his success. However now the target is the soft Tories. They have done nothing locally as they chose to stay out of the coalition and they have not produced any leaflets (so far). The Tory MP didn't answer my email (see not so recent blogs). They are the ones making deep cuts at county level. Maybe some space should be reserved on the leaflets to make sure the electorate know this.

Change the world

Friday, 18 March 2011

Lessons from Japan

We can have nothing but admiration for the way that the Japanese are dealing with their terrible situation. It was quite touching to see the calmness when a small ball of rice was being doled out to be shared between two. You don't see that attitude when the images are shown of the cars and buildings as they sail down roads. Human tragedy is much more significant than the loss of any property.

The latest heroes are those who are working to save the Fukushima nuclear plant. Their story is a little like those of the fire officers who ran into the World Trade Centre, but then slow the whole process down. The Japanese who are working to save the power station know exactly what they are doing but their story will go on for days, weeks and months.

According to John Ritch from the World Nuclear Association on last night's Newsnight, renewable energy has two major drawbacks. It is often opposed locally and they produce electricity intermittently but isn't it time to put aside our nimbyism and maybe we should accept an intermittent supply. This sounds rather appealing when compared to the stories coming out of Japan.

Change the world

Thursday, 17 March 2011

More on Johnny Ball's message

Whatever else we may think about Johnny Ball's message, (see Monday's blog) at least we have to admit that he's positive and optimistic, both about the world as it is now and about the future. That's maybe not such a bad thing. "Every aspect of the technology we use to improve our lives and to lessen our impact on the world is improving commendably, and the future for our children is brighter than we can yet imagine", he says, "and that is the message we should be delivering to every child. Take communications for example. Everything, from mobile phones to iPads, gets better and better and cheaper. Why? Because it's consumer-led and it is what people want."

It would be nice if everything really was this rosy. However, while it is true that these things get faster and easier to use and cheaper, "cheaper" generally means that they get assembled in China by people who get paid next to nothing. And all these faster and better devices mean that older devices get scrapped by being shipped to China or to third world countries where their toxic components pollute landfill or are burned polluting the air. See e.g.

"Investigators who visited the waste sites in Guiyu, China, in December witnessed men, women and children pulling wires from computers and burning them at night, fouling the air with carcinogenic smoke. Other laborers, making $1.50 a day and working with little or no protection, burned plastics and circuit boards or poured acid on electronic parts to extract silver and gold."

This is an aspect of technology which does not improve so much over time, because most consumers are not aware of it, and if Johnny Ball had his way there'd be a lot less awareness. Everything gets better and better all the time, except for the vast swathes of destruction which are conveniently swept under the carpet. Instead of pretending that the world is ideal as it is now, we should consider the bigger picture.

Change the world

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Discipline and Respect

As I write this blog I am watching Manchester United play Marseille. Hernandez goes down in the box because he ran into the Marseille defender who stood still with his back to the united player. I mention this incident because the commentator tells us this is the first time that he has seen the (additional) assistant referee get involved and tell the referee that it wasn't a penalty. Then it is half-time and there is an advert about respect for referees because they have greater vision because there are more of them.

Do you believe the commentator who is saying that an extra official is a waste of time or do you believe the advert? What a waste of advertising! Football really needs to follow rugby in accepting the decisions made by the referee. This isn't a rugby or football blog, it is about how we accept authority and how we live our lives. There are some things we should not accept like any form of assault. Football lets this go on all the time. In rugby it is controlled and if you cross a line then you are punished. Discipline is really important in life and so is respect. Let's hope players, fans and commentators accept it.

Change the world

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Reviewing the TMO (among other things)

I was speaking with an Irish man yesterday who felt that the referee was wrong on Saturday when Wales scored their try against Ireland. His words were fairly mild when compared with those of some of the players. Brian O'Driscoll called the decision "unforgivable". Keith Earls described the Welsh victory as "sickening" The referee must have had an inkling that the wrong ball was used as he asked the linesman if this were the case. The linesman said it was. If you have seen the news then you will know that the linesman was wrong and the television match official (the TMO) was not asked the same question because they are only used when there is doubt about the act of scoring and in this case the lineout was quite some distance from the try line.

I would make three points. Firstly every rugby fan (and player) should know that the referee and linesmen are right even when they are wrong. There is no room for argument. Once we lose sight of this then we rugby fans start our descent to the level of the football fan. Secondly the use of the TMO will soon be reviewed and amended, and thirdly the commentator for the England versus Scotland match has never played rugby. He asked Brian Moore if you could only take a quick lineout with the same ball. Anyone who has played the game would not need to ask.

Change the world

Monday, 14 March 2011

Not on the Ball

Johnny Ball was on the Politics Show's 'soapbox' last week complaining about the science curriculum which he says is scaring pupils about global warming and pollution. "In a few years' time", he said, "the world will be their oyster. So why are we filling their heads with doom and gloom?" I would say it's maybe that with oysters in particular you have to be very careful to avoid pollution, or severe food poisoning might ensue.

"There are wind generators everywhere", he goes on to say, "and not one would be built without public subsidy. Two new nuclear reactors on old sites, which produce no new CO2, will eclipse all the wind generators built and planned. But the wind generators are costing us a fortune." It's an interesting point, if somewhat undermined by the fact that not one nuclear power plant has ever been built or operated in the UK without public subsidy. Some politicians make optimistic noises about the future, but they can only do so by seriously underestimating the cost of new power stations and ignoring the cost of decommissioning. For instance E-ON, estimates that the cost per new nuclear plant could be as high as 4.8 billion, which is much higher than the Government's £2.8 billion estimate. Who knows what it might rise to if and when the plants are actually built?

Johnny's timing was also unfortunate. "What is this devastating threat to us all?" he asked, and almost as if in answer we had the terrible tragedy of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The situation is still developing, but as I write this there are problems in at least five Japanese nuclear power plants, one has exploded and a second explosion seems imminent. In some places, radiation is more than a thousand times 'safe' levels. It could be argued that the UK is not in an earthquake zone, but then neither was Chernobyl. Nuclear power is an extremely dangerous thing even in the best of circumstances, and British facilities have had their share of problems.

The worst that can happen with a wind farm is that they might fall over and hit someone.

Change the world

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Let's say "no" to ugliness

I'll make this my last blog entry on the Independent Party leaflet. They write that 'Only The MBIs (Morecambe Bay Independents - that's the party not the individuals who are independent) Say "No" To Ugly Tower Blocks On Morecambe Promenade'. This is quite a statement. How do they know? Have they asked the other parties? Have they asked the independent councillors? Are they going off a vote in council when the flats went up many years ago? I don't think so because this was a time when there were no MBIs to have any opinion.

I know one lady who lives in these flats. She has a great view but even she will understand that the view towards the building leaves something to be desired. The flats are an anomaly when compared to most of the rest of the promenade. I would like to be positive, so here is my positive message. I will bring this subject up at a meeting of Liberal Democrats and then we can say that we say "no" to ugly tower blocks on the prom. I may even go further and get the meeting to oppose ugliness in general. Then we'll have to decide what is ugly as sometimes one person's ugly is another's beauty.

Change the world

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Ignorance and AV

Kirstie Allsopp reckons she is quite clever, which I suppose is good considering that she was a panellist on Friday's Any Questions. However she qualified this statement by saying that she hasn't a clue about the Alternative Vote. It takes a certain amount of bravery to admit that you are this ignorant. So I congratulate Kirstie for this.

We have an election for the Lancaster City Council in May. All council seats are up for election and there are three councillors in my ward. How many votes do you think I have Kirstie? One? Well that's alright. You can actually vote three times, that's three Xs but put down four and you've blown it. You see how complex the system is already. I hope Kirstie doesn't have such a difficult method of voting.

AV is simpler. You put down the candidates in order that you want them to be elected. If you only know one person or only want to vote once then that's fine but if you do want to write down a 2 against someone that's fine too. There you are. It's easier to explain AV than it is our current system. Fortunately almost all the audience knew about AV even though we have not officially been told about it yet.

Change the world

Friday, 11 March 2011

It could be Yes Minister

I was talking with a couple of people yesterday who had seen the Independent Party leaflet. You may have seen some of my comments already and I was not shy in telling them how bad I thought it was. How could they claim all the credit for anything when they are a minority partner in a coalition? One person thought the leaflet was quite good. They got a message over and voters would believe them. Should all parties claim all the credit (apart from the Tories who can't take any credit) for anything that goes on in our local coalition? My opinion is that we should be honest with the voters. It may win votes.

One of the Independent articles told us how well they had done in dealing with one of their rogue councillors. They want to be congratulated because six of their councillors did so well when the six were accused of bullying. I went into some detail in September last year about this. It is an important and sensitive issue which I described at the time as incompetence in which the council paid out "an estimated £20,000" (Independent Party leaflet). This was purely due to their councillors and now they want congratulating. Presumably they are pleased that it is only £20,000. It could really be an episode of Yes Minister.

Change the world

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The balance of the tobacco argument

I don't have a good word for cigarettes. I know some people do (usually smokers) and they will say things like it helps them control their weight or it helps them to relax. My advice would be to find something else to help. So I don't particularly mind reading that tobacco displays are going to be banned and maybe cigarettes will have to come in plain packages. I don't mind but I don't know how useful this will be. The real problem is why we start to smoke. Advertising may play a part and that is the hope of the government.

I don't think advertising is too important. It wasn't important in the 1960s when a huge amount of advertising went into telling us that we were never alone with a Strand. I do hope that I am wrong and the number of smokers goes down. However when cigarette smoking was banned from public buildings, the smokers had to stand outside on the street and advertise to the passers-by that this is what they do.

Last night's BBC news told me that the Tories had changed their mind on this ban but changing an opinion is not necessarily a bad thing. I am sure that most decisions are based on balance of evidence rather than a battle between good and evil. I don't have a good word for tobacco but I do have a lot to say for freedom of choice. On balance I would prefer the ban on displays and fancy boxes. I would much prefer individuals to stop buying tobacco.

Change the world

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

An Independent Direction

In government the Liberal Democrats work in coalition and this means that we don't get all our own way. The great thing about being a coalition partner even if we are the junior partner is that manifesto commitments can be achieved. We can't achieve things on our own but isn't that what politics should be about? When the raising of the tax threshold allows nearly a million low-earners to stop paying tax then that's brilliant but we must have voted with others. That's the nature of democracy.

At a local level we have a coalition in Lancaster. The Tories decided not to participate so I suppose that makes them the official opposition. They can't take any credit but they can take the blame for not participating when they had their chance.

The Independent Party choose to take credit for housing regeneration, road repairs, and anything else that has happened regardless of how contentious or costly. I'll go into more details but the point for today is that we have to be modest in our claims and give credit where it is due. By all means explain political direction with a manifesto or constitution or preamble to a constitution. I have no idea what the Independent Party stands for.

Change the world

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Political Bias

I received a political leaflet through the door a few days ago from the Independent Party. They are part of the coalition at Lancaster City Council and as such I suppose they can claim the credit for anything good at this level of local government. On the other hand they also have to take collective blame. They can't claim anything at county level as they don't have any county councillors. They are the dominant party at town council level so they are able to freely take the blame or credit at this level. So much of what they had to say came as a surprise to me.

One article is about road repairs. They claim the credit for "extensive road repairs". Maybe part of the town council budget goes to repairing roads but I didn't know this. I find it hard to reconcile the word extensive with the work carried out at county level. Admittedly the practice of repairing roads is delegated to the city council but that doesn't make them the appropriate authority. However, it seems that these extensive repairs are isolated to Morecambe and Heysham "following years of Labour neglect".

I have no wish to defend a previous Labour administration at county level but my opinion is that the roads must be worse now than at any previous time (and it is Tory led now). Basically the article doesn't make sense but it looks like the Independents do everything. This propaganda comes from a party whose leaflets tell us to vote for them if we are sick of party politics. They could tell us about their goals for the city council but they can hardly take credit in the way they do. Let's hope their next leaflet will contain more balanced reports.

Change the world

Monday, 7 March 2011

Following yesterday's blog...

The following is my reply to Tim's comment on yesterday's "social engineering is good" blog. Since his comment was bigger than my initial blog, and it raised a number of points which I hadn't raised, I thought it would be better to deal with it by writing this blog.

If a majority of universities do charge £9000 (still a big if) then that will have the positive effect of funding the development and expansion of those universities to a greater extent - surely a good thing. Tim says that the effect "will be to divert money away from wealth creating businesses and into the pocket of the universities themselves" but neither education nor the economy are zero-sum games (i..e games where if one group wins then another has to lose). In general, if we improve education then we improve the economy, and vice-versa.

He says that we "may very well not live for another 30 years - so again, this has the impact of costing the exchequer more over the medium term than the current system of up front payments for courses". I hope that everybody reading this blog will in fact live on for much longer than that, but even if we do not, I also hope our government can be generous enough to absorb the occasional "loss" that arises from this mortality. The "loss", such as it is, is actually minuscule compared to the gain that comes from having a well educated populace, one better educated on the whole than would have been the case if all payments were required up front.

I've glanced at Tim's blog, and seen how he argues that "universities get the money now, of course, not as the students pay it back, so it needs to be found from somewhere". It is true that the government needs to find money now, to pay for universities' current expenditure, and that is a liability. However, it is not an *unfunded* liability. The enormous problem facing the government now is the deficit, which consists of *unfunded* liabilities, things like civil servants' pensions, which will have to be paid out, but for which no special fund has been set up. That is what the government has to tackle, if it is not to drown in debt. In the case of student fees, there is a promise to pay. The promise may not always be fulfilled, for instance in the case of early deaths or where a student never earns enough to repay, but in general there will be repayment. And that is all that money is: a promise to pay. These promises are as real as any other money, so they can be placed in the assets column, balancing the ledger. Okay, the debt doesn't disappear entirely. It does get placed on the shoulders of individual citizens, but those citizens only have to pay what they can afford, when they can afford it, and they get an education in return which they might not otherwise have had.

I've not looked at the specific effect of the government's proposals on the O.U. yet. I will do so at some time, but in the meantime I'm not sure why they should affect the O.U. adversely, or what makes the O.U. different from any other educational establishment in that respect.

From all this, you might think that I see the government's current proposals as ideal. I don't. I'd still prefer to see fees abolished, and hope that we will be able to do so in the not too distant future, However, I don't see how it can be said that the coalition plans don't encourage people to go to university, or that they don't address the deficit.

Change the world

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Social engineering is good

Ideally I would like to see University tuition fees scrapped, but if we can't have that (and in the current economic climate and with the limits imposed by coalition government, we can't) then the important thing is to ensure that any system we do have is progressive - that it is based on ability to pay, so that bright students aren't prevented from fulfilling their potential because of money concerns.

Liberal Democrats have achieved that, and quite spectacularly too. No-one has to pay up front, and students will only begin to pay when they are earning £21K or more. Monthly payments will be lower than they are today in every case; and any institution intending to charge tuition fees will have to submit detailed plans explaining how they will ensure poorer students do not miss out. This will mean extra scholarships and discounts for those from less-well-off backgrounds. If it wasn't for the unfortunate promises made before the last election, all of this would be seen as a stunning achievement; and it is a stunning achievement.

What makes it stunning? Well, MP for Christchurch and former vice-chairman of the Conservative party Christopher Chope has come out against the coalition proposals, claiming that setting aside university places for the poor is 'social engineering'. Introducing his own alternative bill, he said "I share the concern of a lot of people in universities that the government is trying to increase regulation and interference in order to try and tick some boxes on social engineering and social mobility that is ill-conceived." He said institutions should have the freedom to pick students on merit regardless of their background, while opposing proposals which did precisely that. He seems to be incapable of seeing that turning students away because they can't afford to pay is in fact a form of selection.

You could say that Chope is just one person, and his bill didn't get very far, but in fact he represents a strand of Conservative thinking which is far from uncommon. If the Conservatives were in power on their own, without the moderating influence of the Liberal Democrats, then he and those who think like him would be far more influential than they are now. And if Labour were in power instead - well, it's Labour which introduced tuition fees in the first place in 1998, after promising in their manifesto that they wouldn't, and who increased them in 2004. They're very good at criticising, which is fair enough given that that's the job of an opposition, but they're not so good at putting forward positive alternatives.

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Saturday, 5 March 2011

Academic Improvements?

420 000 adults in Greater Manchester have problems reading and writing. Unless you know the population of Greater Manchester this figure will not mean much to you, but it does mean that one in four people are struggling to apply for jobs or pay bills. They lack basic literacy but how often have we heard politicians say they will target the three Rs?

There is good news. We heard about Karen Woods who could hardly read until her late thirties but has now written a couple of books following an adult literacy class. Karen was moved to write by a supportive teacher who “cried at my book”. And that’s what makes a good teacher. Teachers can’t get emotional if the pupil is not producing any work,

This report was specific to Greater Manchester. I will be interested to compare this blog with the one I write when the GCSE results come out because all I seem to read is that everyone has passed.

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Friday, 4 March 2011

Public replies to emails

I received a polite and helpful reply from a local government department today. I had waited a couple of days but I had been prepared for this as I received an automatic reply that my email would be dealt with this week. Well done Lancaster City Council.

I have also sent an email to my MP (take a look at my blog entry for the 20th February). I received another automatic reply but this one told me that I would just have to wait in turn. I don't think I have ever kept anyone waiting 48 hours for an email reply but I suppose I can't expect everyone to be so enthusiastic.

However, before the election I remember three phone calls from the Tories asking for my voting intentions. I did give full and honest replies each time so I don't know why they repeated the process twice. I do know that twice the person on the phone had an Irish accent.

It is a pity that the MP's enthusiasm prior to the last election appears to have greatly diminished.

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Thursday, 3 March 2011

Revolution or Reform?

On the 2nd February I wrote about the Burghers of Calais and mentioned that I had read about them in Stephen Clarke's book 1000 years of annoying the French. In the same book I read about the French Revolution. Stephen tells us that the storming of the Bastille was not the major event that sparked events. In fact there was a long list of grievances presented to King Louis XVI. The Revolution could have stopped there and then as the king was fairly hopeful that the (fairly major) demands could be negotiated. The problem was the voting system.

The clergy, with 291 votes represented 10,000 people. The 270 votes from the nobility represented 400,000 people. Thirdly, the 25 million commoners had 585 votes. The 'people' had a majority but they wanted their MPs to represent equal numbers. The disagreement between the Assemblee and the king escalated into revolution. So voting reform was the key factor.

Move forward to present day UK. There are so many who no longer vote as they feel disenfranchised and apathy wins. However there are so many more who are angry at the failings of our electoral system. Our former Labour MP on Morecambe is well aware of the Tory money that was poured into certain constituencies. Elections are won and lost in just a few seats across the country. There are so many voters who just don't see the reason to vote when their MP has a huge majority.

If there is a choice between revolution or electoral reform I would rather go for the latter.

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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Lord Lee of Trafford

I was present at the Liberal Democrats' North West Conference on Saturday. I'm not bragging as I really am quite an ordinary member but it did give me some photo opportunities. For more on the photographic side take a look at my photography blog at where you will also find more photos from conference.

Isn't it nice to be able to take photos! There are signs everywhere forbidding cameras in public places. Even in the open air you often read about complaints when photos are taken but there were no such restrictions to taking photos of members of the House of Lords and no such complaints. Just to prove it here is Lord Lee of Trafford who gave permission for me to use his photos.

The main difference for me with a Liberal Democrat conference and those of Labour or the Conservatives is that you get debate. If you have forgotten Walter Wolfgang you may like to search for what happened to him at a Labour conference. As the former minister Francis Pym famously said "landslides on the whole do not produce successful governments". He very soon became "former" after Mrs Thatcher heard him. It seems so obvious to me (and to Walter and Francis), opposition is important in order to avoid complacency.

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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A reply to a reply

I often use blog entries as the basis for articles in Focus leaflets. Today I will work the other way around and show you my email reply to a comment on Focus. You should be able to fill in the gaps and imagine the initial email. Anyway, here is my reply...

Firstly, thank you for taking the time to read Focus and to respond. I am a Liberal Democrat and your involvement enriches politics. You are quite correct that tuition fees are not paid up front, but in the case of poorer students there would be no up front charge for two years. I hope that explains the difference. If you do an internet search you will see that the government is being criticised for supporting poorer families to the detriment of the middle classes. I am proud to support those who are less well off.

As for the M6 link there is only one choice, the proposed link that travels mainly west/east called the Northern route or nothing. You have to decide which camp you are in and then support that as there is no other option. You may have read about our survey that showed that when given this option the vast majority supported the link road.

The words "heap misery" may be a little strong when compared to other items currently in the news, but these words may equally apply to the traffic delays that occur between the M6 and the Morecambe and Heysham peninsula. You may be interested to read my daily political blogs. The road has featured several times and may be found at

I am afraid we are going to have to differ on our view on human rights. It would take me a long time to explain my support and I may write a few blogs about it. As for the EU it could be the basis for a John Cleese type "what has the EU done for us" sketch. Again I have written about this several times, but pollution, crime and fishing are three things that come to mind that know no UK border. The list could go on and on. There are some who say we should keep to trade only but they forget that almost all government departments have to deal with the rest of Europe. Anyone who trades with Europe benefits from EU membership. I won't go on as it really could be a Monty Python sketch.

Thanks again for your contribution and if you would like to comment on any of my blog entries you are more than welcome.

Best wishes...

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