Saturday, 30 April 2011

Beauty surrounds

On the 21st June 2009 I wrote about the armorial bearings (the coat of arms) for Morecambe. This coat of arms was created in 1928 for the town of Morecambe and was used by the football club until about a year ago when Morecambe FC felt obliged to change it because they didn't have copyright. I have read reports that they felt permission lay with the town council. I wonder if they asked for permission.

Now it is election time and the Morecambe Bay Independent Party also uses the same logo.
Well to be more exact, they changed the original motto which was “beauty surrounds, health abounds” (which is just about as far as you can get away from party politics) to "people before politics" without a hint of irony. You see, this particular party gain votes by pretending that they are not a party. They have a tagline "sick of party politics" which they also use without a hint of irony.

This party knows that they need permission to use Morecambe's coat of arms, but I have never seen anything that says they have been granted this permission. If permission lies with the council then it would smack of corruption if they used it. If it doesn't (and it didn't in 2009) then they should celebrate being given permission to use it. However my guess is that they just decided to use it and not ask permission. A logo which belongs to the whole town should not be appropriated by one particular party.

Change the world

Friday, 29 April 2011

No link with Labour and Lenin

As it is less than a week to our local elections I thought I would choose a political theme for the photography blog and this is one of those occasions when I use the same blog entry for both of my blogs.

It is well over twenty years since a Labour councillor showed me the similarity between the Labour Rose and the silhouette of Lenin. I have always thought that there was a strong resemblance but now that I have worked on the photo of a leaflet I am not convinced. Maybe the Labour Rose has changed over the years but I think I will settle on the notion that there is no connection.

Change the world

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Vote yes for a fairer system

It is at least a year ago when I was speaking with someone from Ireland. I asked about the voting system and how they managed with STV. Isn't it difficult to cope with a numbered system rather than a cross for one candidate? The answer he gave me, of course, was that it was easy to place numbers against the candidates.

Yesterday I was again talking with someone from Ireland. She was telling me how it was important to get fair proportions of elected representatives to the votes that were cast. Religious bigotry was evident and reflected in the religious backgrounds of elected representatives. She told me about ratepayer suffrage in which you didn't get a vote if you lived in a council house. It just so happened that most people in council houses belonged to one particular religion.

She also told me that company directors had more than one vote and that there were block votes going to big businesses until the late 60s. If you thought rotten boroughs were a thing of the past then you don't have to go back too far before you find systems that are obviously wrong. A change to make the system fairer was really important. Now universal adult suffrage sounds good but Ireland needed a fair system as well - not first-past-the-post.

AV is not difficult to understand and nobody complains about one person's vote being transferred from one candidate to another. That's what happens in a system that gives fairer representation and that's the best reason to vote for AV in the referendum, because it is a fairer system.

Change the world

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Political Conversations

It is good to knock on doors. I have never asked anyone if they will vote for me as I have never thought this question would influence anyone. I get asked if I have been out canvassing so the answer must always be no. For this election we are conducting a survey and we are telling the person who comes to the door that there are simply three yes or no answers. We also tell them that there are no right and wrong answers and this way we manage to speak to a lot of people.

We also get a lot of information, not just from three answers, but we get people talking to us. One of the questions is about the Independent Party in Morecambe which is split this time. We don't know the difference between the two parties but we know that this is also the view of the electorate. How are they supposed to choose between two parties if they are both saying the same thing?

I met someone yesterday who had decided to spoil her vote for the Morecambe Town Council. There is nothing wrong with that (apart from the better choice of the Liberal Democrats) as she has exercised her democratic right by sending in her spoilt vote. She still wants to use her vote even if the candidates are not good enough for her. Initially this person was reluctant to talk with us but after those magical three questions we did have a conversation. The real story is that she is a Tory and there are no Tory candidates for the town council.

It is good to knock on doors and chat. The chances are that I am speaking with someone who doesn't vote and who knows, they may decide to turn up at the polling station anyway and a conversation with a candidate may just influence their vote.

Change the world

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Safety Measures?

On Sunday I wrote about the traffic calming measures on the road between Lancaster and Morecambe. I don't know what all the roadworks are going to do but a small part of them revealed a traffic island to me on Saturday. Yesterday I noticed that there is a bus stop marked in this small section of the road with the island.

I have seen traffic measures taken like this all over Lancashire and I am sure you can relate to this wherever you are, but when did the trend reverse from building bus stops so the bus moved off the road and kept traffic flowing to building bus stops to deliberately stop all traffic? This particular traffic island looks like it has been built by someone who has had too much to drink. It creates a narrow lane in a very wide road. On the opposite side is enough room for two and a half lanes but paint makes this into one lane. No doubt further changes and further expense is planned.

Over the years I have seen signs that have been hit which have been asking for drivers to drive carefully. I have seen bollards that narrow roads which have been knocked over. I actually saw an accident as a car drove into a bollard about six months after they were put in place to narrow the road and create a parking bay. Maybe these measures are identified as traffic calming. I wonder if they are seen as safety measures too. The worst aspect for me is that this road is notorious as the slowest in the area if not the whole country.

Change the world

Monday, 25 April 2011

The BNP say no

William Hague was on the Andrew Marr show yesterday and was speaking about AV. Both the yes and the no sides are using the BNP to claim that the other system gives more votes to this party. Baroness Warsi for the no group reckons that she doesn't want the BNP to get more votes but this is what AV would do for them. William Hague supported her when he asked "Will the candidates in marginal seats have to think about how they're going to get the second, third and fourth preferences of people who have voted for the BNP?"

Well the answer is let's hope so. What makes voters turn to the BNP? Is it possible that these voters feel marginalised? Do they feel like the main parties aren't listening to them? With AV we could get politicians who listen and seek support from voters who are not their natural allies so AV would be a move to the centre for British politics. William answers his own question. He feels that the answer is debatable but I get the feeling that he does not see any importance in looking to gain votes which are second preferences. To him they are not significant. Well if political groups choose to ignore the possible benefits of second preferences it will be their loss.

Just for the record, the BNP are on Baroness Warsi's side and will be voting no.

Change the world

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Calming the congestion

We know that we have to make savings but nobody likes the savings when they are affected by them. I was driving between Lancaster and Morecambe today and I discovered why we were undergoing major roadworks. The care in front of me veered towards the kerb and I followed suit. We were avoiding traffic calming measures. Not only do we have major roadworks on a road which must be the worst in the country for congestion, we also have traffic calming measures! We don't need any.

There are very few times in the day when traffic is moving freely. Admittedly it wasn't bad today - well it is Easter Sunday but we are normally talking 5 or 10mph. We have so much paint on our roads. We have so many instructions. Traffic just seems to flow better on the continentand they hardly spend anything on paint. We have double-yellow lines everywhere and then we have traffic calming measures on the same part of the road. Here's an easy answer. Let the cars park and you get instant traffic calming at no cost.

Change the world

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Any opposition is infinitely better than none

I received my Labour leaflet on Thursday evening. We have no Labour candidates for the Morecambe Town Council but we do have one labour candidate for the three seats for the Lancaster City council. On the positve side, I don't think Labour are trying too hard which is very nice of them. Their candidate is a university student whom I presume must be studying away from home as his university is not mentioned.

On the negative side they call the coalition the Con/Dem coalition. Do they think this is funny? It just comes across as an insult and panders to one of the Independent Parties in Morecambe which is oblivious to the fact that they are a party but has a theme of insulting those who take part in party politics. "Sick of party politics? Vote for our party" Those may not be the exact words on their posters but that's what they should say.

The Labour leaflet contains a great deal of criticism about the government cuts. Maybe the electorate will be influenced by national politics but there is no apology for the state of the economy left by the previous Labour government. At least Ed Balls had a go at blaming the economy on a global recession even though Vince Cable was highlighting Labour financial irresponsibilities as they were being carried out. Still, at least we have a Labour candidate for the City Council and this is infinitely better than the no-contests that have happened for the Morecambe Town Council.

Change the world

Friday, 22 April 2011

More on AV

The AV referendum hinges on whether we have a good system now or not. My answer is simple, not. General elections are decided by a few thousand voters in marginal constituencies and this means that the vast majority of votes don't affect the result. For the vast majority of MPs their biggest hurdle to re-election will be to get the party nomination, not the votes of the electorate. If that is the case then the MP only has to be concerned with the wishes of the party members.

Compare that to AV. Not only does an MP have to persuade party members that they are worthy of becoming their MP, but they also have to persuade voters who prefer other parties. AV is centrist. It limits extremism. The image of a 100m race being won by the person in last place is just not right. If this were the case then the BNP would support it but AV is not about to make huge changes to results but it would make everyone think twice about their more extreme views.

AV is far better than the present system.

Change the world (or at least the electoral system by voting yes)

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Vote no to insults

I am standing in the elections for Morecambe Town Council and for Lancaster City Council so I have been out knocking on doors and delivering leaflets. Yesterday morning I was placing one of our leaflets with a small photo of Nick Clegg on top of some No to AV leaflets with a big photo of Nick Clegg which is basically just an insult. A few hours later I mentioned this to someone and they replied "so Nick Clegg doesn't want AV?" I did explain how important I (and Nick) thought it was to vote yes to AV but it made me think that it isn't fair to base arguments on insulting the opposition.

The words on the leaflet make matters worse (one has been delivered to my house). It claims that AV leads to broken promises because Nick Clegg has broken promises. This argument is wrong on so many levels. Firstly if you think Nick has broken promises then he has done so under the first-past-the-post electoral system. Secondly the leaflet shows clearly that the author does not understand the nature of coalition government. Ministers are obliged to follow the Government line which will not be the same as the party manifesto. It isn't a broken promise, it is a coalition agreement. Thirdly, and this is the elephant in the room, regardless of whether you think AV would lead to broken promises or not, AV would not turn the world upside down. However there is no correlation between AV and broken promises.

I will quote from my blog on 17th February..."On the other hand prior to the last election AV would not have changed the result of the previous six elections. It is not going to turn the world upside down. In fact the only recent change would have been that Labour could have formed a government with the Liberal Democrats".

Wouln't it be nice to discuss the merits of AV rather than insults?

Change the world

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The People's Princess

On Sunday 31st August 1997 I was woken at around 6.30am with the news that Princess Diana had died in a car crash. Later that morning I passed on the request that if any other members of the royal family were to die I would wait for the news without being woken. I know she was very popular and some readers may wish to be woken but I prefer the person who died a week later as a role model for me. Mother Teresa.

Yesterday I was speaking with someone who had attended Diana's funeral. He had done so as a guest of an MP. I am sure this was an important moment for him but I wondered why a backbench MP had been invited along with a guest. I didn't think that Westminster Abbey could hold that many mourners and with 659 MPs I didn't think there would be any space left if they all took a guest. I was surprised when I did an Internet search to discover that it had seated about 8,200 for Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953. Still, though, I can't help wondering about the criteria that were applied to decide who should attend. How many of the mourners actually had a close connection to Diana?

I suppose MPs should have some representation at times of public mourning and maybe that doesn't make them any less genuine than Diana's nearest and dearest. However I am also reminded of Tony Blair's speech, with its famous reference to the "People's Princess". It was certainly a well crafted speech, and it didn't do Tony Blair's reputation any harm, but I remember wondering at the time if he ever thought of her as the "People's Princess" before she died.

Change the world.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The message in the leaflet

I have completed three sides of A4 of what will hopefully be our last leaflet before the election. It is all good positive stuff saying what dependable hard-working people we are in the Liberal Democrats. The last page is yet to be written but we had a meeting yesterday evening and we discussed the major points to go on that page. We will mention that Focus leaflets go out regularly, not just at election times. We will mention that we are hard-working. It may well be that candidates from other parties work just as hard but the evidence in terms of regular leaflets is just not there.

Then there is going to be a small negative section. The Independent Party isn't going to mention the acrimonious split which has been costly to Morecambe in both political and financial terms, so we have to. Maybe the other Independent Party will mention it but this is unlikely as they will have to say that they are like the other Party only better. The first independent group often ask in their leaflets if the electorate is sick of party politics (conveniently forgetting that they are a party), well the question should be asked if the electorate are fed up with Independent in-fighting.

Change the world

Monday, 18 April 2011

What would Forrest Gump say?

It is easy to write political blogs because politics is all around us. It is even easier to write political blogs at election time as there are political conversations, leaflets put through letterboxes and patent electoral stories make the headlines as they do throughout the year.

One of my pet hates (I am a grumpy old man) with political views is that some politicians feel they are completely right and others are completely wrong when it is almost certainly the balance of the argument that led them to their belief in the first place. A few days ago I mentioned Margaret Thatcher and the Belgrano but I could be talking about any decision made at any political level.

The Morecambe Bay Independents have taken the credit for dealing with an "ousted" councillor. Regular readers will know that it wasn't one councillor but an acrimonious split and it was expensive to the people of Morecambe in political and financial terms. Forrest Gump said something along the lines that things like this happen, but then for this party to take credit is really beyond belief.

Change the world

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Which independence do I go for?

I received not one but two leaflets from the Independent Party a couple of days ago. Three if you count the additional leaflet that one of my sons received sealed in an envelope. There is an emphasis on explaining that they are the genuine Independent Party and the reason for this is that there has been a split and we now have two independent parties.

The first party found success on the back of putting Morecambe first. This is not a great basis if you want to expand but that's what they did. I am sure that the second party will put forward the same objective. The trouble for both parties is that all elected representatives from any party or even those who are truly independent, act on behalf of those they represent. Those who wish to be elected have to convince the voter that other parties don't act for their electorate. They may be able to do this because of our broken system. For example, I have never lived in a constituency with a Liberal Democrat as the MP and I have never felt that my views have been adequately represented by the MP.

More importantly for the Independent parties, they have to convince the electorate that their view of independence is more significant than the view of the other independent party. I do not envy their spin doctors.

Change the world

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Referendum

You often hear that a vote for some parties may be a wasted vote. However the only votes that are not wasted are those that elect the winner, so the vast majority are wasted. If the number of elected representatives does not reflect the feelings of the electorate then it is not a good democracy. Our system is definitely broken and we have fewer and fewer people bothering to vote. If you want an example of how bad our system can be then take the byelection in Morecambe last October. We had a 12% turnout. If this isn't a broken system then I don't know what is.

In the next few weeks you will hear many different arguments about which way you should vote in the referendum. You will hear things like the cost of the referendum should be spent on other things. Whatever you feel about the value of spending money on a voting system compared to spending it on, say orphans, please ignore these arguments. The money has been spent. Most of all don't be fooled by the first-past-the-post serving us well - it hasn't.

Change the world

Friday, 15 April 2011

Discussions with voters

I was speaking with a voter yesterday and she thought the Liberal Democrats may not do well. My answer went along the lines that we were the only party working the ward, the Labour Party weren't fighting the election and the Independents were split. I think we will do well.

The previous day I was putting out leaflets near to a proposed link road and a gentleman introduced himself to me. He was an objector to the proposed road and he asked my opinion. My first thoughts were that this is not an election for the county council which decides on such matters. He wasn't happy with this as the views of the locally elected councillors may hold some authority.

My second line was that Liberal Democrats carried out a survey and the huge majority supported the road. These protests have been going on for some years and there are some posters advertising a survey which came to the opposite conclusion. For me the discrepency was simply down to the question that was asked. Our survey said if this were the only option would you want it. I guess their's said would you like a link road somewhere else.

He agreed that survey results related to survey questions but he said that he looked into it and was not objecting as a nimby but on economic grounds. You have council projections of a good improvement in the economy. You have protestors saying there are few benefits. My feelings have been well documented but I think that Morecambe will die without the road.

Change the world

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A strong constitution

Following on from yesterday's blog, we have an election for Morecambe Town council and in Torrisholme I am a candidate along with four other Liberal Democrats contesting the five seats that are available. Now the Morecambe Bay Independents only have four candidates which is fine for us if they have an ardent fan then this voter may choose to give us their fifth vote. They may not but hey that's politics. On the other hand if an ardent Liberal Democrat goes to vote then there is no spare vote. That's the easy bit.

It seems that there has been a significant split in the ranks of the Morecambe Bay Independents and some of them are now calling themselves Independence 4 Morecambe. What do they stand for? The Morecambe Bay Independents used to say that they put Morecambe first, whatever that means. Now they have the additional problem of distinguishing themselves from the Independence 4 Morecambe Party. Are you still with me?

Most elected politician will say they represent their constituents. How they do this depends on their constitution, or more importantly, the party's constitution. The Independent parties don't have one as far as I know. So if I can't distinguish between the two independent parties then what chance has the voter who doesn't take a close interest in politics?

Change the world

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A sad day for democracy

The local elections are confusing. Well they are fairly easy to understand if anyone explains, but in Morecambe we have elections for the Town Council when you can vote for up to five candidates, and the Lancaster City Council when you have up to three votes. On top of that we have the AV referendum and despite all the good efforts of those involved in the campaigns, many will not know what it all means. Fortunately the Liberal Democrats have put out a leaflet to explain the voting system.

The lists of candidates has now been published and can be found at but we still need an explanation of how many votes we have in each election.

In Torrisholme there are five Liberal Democrats for the Town Council and three Liberal Democrats for the City Council. This matches the number of possible councillors but take a look at Bare (that's an area of Morecambe). There are no candidates other than those from a party called the Morecambe Bay Independents. I have only glanced at the lists and there may be other wards like this, but just the Bare list, and it is a bare list, makes this a sad day for democracy.

Change the world

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

How policy is made

According to "One of Nick Clegg's closest advisers has threatened to quit unless ministers make changes to a proposed overhaul of the NHS." The advisor in question, Norman Lamb, was the Lib Dem health spokesman before the election, and Nick Clegg does rely heavily on his advice. When added to the opposition expressed by the Lib Dem rank and file at the spring conference, this puts a lot of pressure on the Coalition to think about and maybe rein in the implementation of the policy.

Which is exactly how it should be.

Both Conservatives and Liberal Dempcrats want to see reform of the health service, but they have different priorities regarding the form that reform should take. As I said on the 5th, Liberal Democrats want elected health boards while Conservatives for the most part want to give control of the NHS budget to GP consortiums. This is a difference that has to be worked out, through persuasion and through the application of appropriate pressure. This will likely involve some give and take, which makes it especially important to speak up about what the most important sticking points are. For instance, Liberal Democrats support a minimum price for alcohol, which the Tories oppose. There might be some concession on this point, in return for guarantees on something which is more important, the future of the NHS.

But shadow health spokesman John Healey said Mr Lamb's comments "added to the confusion throughout the Conservative-led government over its handling of the health service" and showed the plans were "flawed", which makes me think, yet again, that Labour may not understand dissent or even discussion. Most plans are "flawed". We live in a "flawed" world, which is why we seek to change it to the best of our ability, and when we see that one approach isn't working then maybe we try another. Unless we are Labour, perhaps.

Change the world.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Politics by consensus

I don't mind who comes up with a good idea. I don't mind if it comes from those in power or those in opposition. When Any Questions came from Morecambe Lembit Opik told the Labour MP for Barrow, John Hutton that not only did the Liberal Democrats have policies on benefit fraud but the minister could take any he wanted to use. Just prior to this comment John Hutton had decided to throw a cheap insult about Liberal Democrats not having a policy on this subject. Strangely, when I checked the main manifestos, the Liberal Democrats were the only party to mention it.

However the subject of this blog is about where good ideas come from and how even good ideas may be amended in order to improve them. I don't mind politicians admitting that they are not perfect. I really don't like politicians saying they are perfect. Take Margaret Thatcher telling us that the Belgrano was a danger to our shipping. I just thought she was mad. Those who felt she was a strong leader because of her unwavering claims of danger need to consider how a ship outside an exclusion zone heading in the wrong direction could be a danger.

I want politics by consensus. I don't like adversarial politics but constructive criticism is fine. Too often we are left with political point scoring rather that aiming for higher goals.

Change the world

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Invitations for debts

On the 27th March I wrote about Ed Ball's response to the budget and he gave an apology somewhere for something. My interpretation was that he was apologising for the economy failing in the whole of the world. I knew Labour's handling of the economy was bad but I hadn't thought it was that bad. Yesterday I met an old friend who told me that he had always been a Labour supporter. However he couldn't forgive them for two things and he mentioned one. It was their handling of the economy.

He remembered the time when every other letter through the letterbox seemed to be an invitation to own a credit card. They were being given out to people who had no hope of ever repaying their debt. Now we hardly recognise the concept of debt. Debt is now an integral part of life. At least one thing has improved, the requests to get into more debt are less frequent.

Change the world

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Good Communication

There are so many cutbacks it makes you wonder how we can improve matters without cost. One such way is by talking. Communication isn't expensive and can save a lot of money. I don't usually see any breakfast television but on Thursday morning I saw an article on a school in Darwen where the teachers had gone on strike. The spokesperson for the NUT, Avis Gilmore is a former physiotherapist and I used to work with her. I know she is a dedicated worker who would try her best to resolve conflict. So how did she get to comment on the first teacher walkout for 15 years?

The staff on strike reckon the senior management did not do enough to clampdown on unruly behaviour. The headteacher reckons the vast majority of pupils behave well and is disappointed that there has been a strike. Let's hope the majority of pupils do behave well but it doesn't mean that the staff are not supported when they have to deal with the minority.

The most telling statement for me was that unions were meeting with management but only after the strike action was called. I have no reason to believe that Avis wasn't telling the truth which means that good communication could have saved a strike. I don't know if the staff are wimps or the pupils are barbarians. However bad the situation good communication would have helped.

Change the world

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Rooney Defence

Wayne Rooney has been banned for two matches for swearing directly in front of a television camera. He apologised fairly quickly and now feels his punishment has been harsh because "I am not the first player to have sworn on TV and I won't be the last". He goes on to say "whatever, I have to accept that what's happened has happened and move on from here. That is what I intend to do." Well that's not quite the case. He has complained about the punishment and many Manchester United fans and others will also say the punishment has been harsh.

Rangers were also in the news yesterday because they too had been victimised because of allegations of sectarian chanting. They will defend these allegations "vigorously". I am not sure how they could defend themselves as I would guess there is plenty of evidence. There may even be thousands of witnesses. I suppose they could use the Rooney defence that fans from every team sing songs of hatred.

It's not good enough is it? If everyone follows the Rooney defence nobody would be punished for anything. "It's only dropping litter M'Lud" will be heard in court. Why don't we investigate the real criminals? That's why we have our litter problem. It could even be the main cause for most of society's problems. If we aren't bothered about the small things then it gives leeway to commit bigger and bigger crimes with the excuse that there is always something worse going on.

Change the world

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Around two years ago...

Around two years ago we had protests at the G20 conference - see yesterday's blog. At roughly the same time we had the BNP standing in front of a Polish spitfire thinking it was British. We were also discovering that some MPs were milking the system and Michael Martin was struggling in his role of speaker. How do I know? Well I have just looked back at my blog entries and we were having elections for the first time ever for a Morecambe Town Council. So roughly two years ago the Morecambe Bay Independents were asking about the use of the armorial bearings (the coat of arms) of the former Morecambe and Heysham Borough Council but there was no mention of this party using it with or without permission.

One of the great recent advances in technology has been our ability to communicate. Who would have thought even in 2001 that the 2011 census could be filled in by using the internet? The opportunities to improve our democracy are tremendous. Even on a local level anyone could email their councillor or MP. Now the downside. My MP has decided not to answer my email. I did get an automated response to say that it would be dealt with and that was that. Then there are websites. Take a look at and you will see that there is no community forum for the local council. Still, they have only been trying for two years.

Change the world

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A Police Apology

Almost two years ago I wrote about the G20 protests. In particular I wrote about the investigation into the death of Ian Tomlinson shortly after he was pushed over by a police officer. I felt that the balaclava and the lack of an obvious number on the uniform was not helpful to the investigation and I felt it was a cause for concern if police officers could remain anonymous. Well PC Simon Harwood is not an anonymous officer and he apologised yesterday "if it is the case that in any way I have caused Mr Tomlinson's death".

I am pleased that this apology has been made. I think the police have a hard job and the push was not particularly excessive but I was waiting for the result of the inquiry. Results were published and now an apology has been made. The inquest continues but I remain concerned about the possibility of police anonymity when dealing with protests.

Change the world

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Shedding light on NHS policy

When the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference voted overwhelmingly against Tory-led plans for NHS reform, it seemed to many that this would introduce friction into the workings of the coalition. Now, however, David Cameron has been forced to rein back the ambitious plans following criticism from all sides. When Norman Tebbit and Shirley Williams are both strongly critical of the same policy, and for the same reasons, you know that there's something wrong with it.

Both coalition parties agree on the need for NHS reform, but the Liberal Democrats approach is that patients come first. This means having elected health boards. The Conservative plans involve giving control of 80 percent of the NHS budget to GP consortiums. Now, GPs certainly ought to have a say in how the NHS operates, because they see it at close hand and can be expected to have a good idea of what patients want and need. However, taking doctors who are skilled in the treatment of patients and making them into administrators is perhaps not the best use of resources.

The other thing is that Liberal Democrats say it is alright for the government to pay for private treatment if for any reason the NHS is unable to provide it on time. We should obviously work to close the gap, so that the same situation doesn't arise again later on, but when lives and health are at stake that's no time to go all ideological. The Conservative-led proposals though would have patients referred for private treatment even if the NHS was fully capable of providing it. It would have had NHS and private contractors competing on a supposedly equal footing - except the NHS doesn't have a vast marketing department dedicated to persuading GPs to use its services.

So, how did we get to this point? These plans weren't in the coalition agreement hammered out after the last general election. They weren't in any manifesto. They probably surprised David Cameron as much as anybody - he is on record as having said repeatedly that the NHS would be safe in his hands, and that there would be "no more pointless and disruptive reorganisations".

The whole thing seems to be the brainchild of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. And while it seems likely that similar plans would have sped through unopposed in a purely Conservative government, the Liberal Democrats have shed just enough light on them to ensure that even the Conservatives can see the problem with them. That has to be a good thing.

Change the world

Monday, 4 April 2011

Grants more important than pronunciation

Heysham is a village next to Morecambe. If you have not heard of it then you may have a problem with the pronunciation. The locals say the first syllable like the pronoun he, not the dried grass hay. One of the groups to feel the recent cuts from the Arts Council (see yesterday's blog) was the dance company The Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs (usually pronounced The Chumleys and Fanshaws). There are a few rules of pronunciation in English but the first rule must be that there you have to bow to local knowledge when it comes to proper nouns. In the North West we have three Claughtons all pronounced differently - just go with the locals.

I spent the first year of my course in physiotherapy learning how to pronounce anatomical and physiological words. I spent the rest of my life learning that everyone pronounces them differently. Pronunciation may not be the most important aspect in any political thinking but mispronunciations will not win votes. However it is much more important to do the right thing than to pronounce it correctly. Let's hope the big society work of the Chumleys and Fanshaws and the Lancaster Ludus Dance may continue.

Change the world

Sunday, 3 April 2011

A smaller big society

A few days ago I was telling you how Mike Harding's audience viewed the big society. This week the Arts Council announced cuts in funding to many organisations including Ludus Dance based in Lancaster. The cuts are significant and it is difficult to see how this group could survive but they do have a year or so before the cuts really begin to be felt. This was the main headline in our local paper on Friday 1st April but it was no joke. However there was good news for "More Music in Morecambe". I have attended their guitar classes and although this is only one small aspect of their work in the community, I think they do a very good job in a deprived area of Lancashire.

So there are some winners but with overall cuts of 30% it is not difficult to work out that most beneficiaries will be losers. If we are to have a big society we must have the means to organise groups to work together and uphold the notion of society and see people work together not because they are employed but because they wish to participate in a better community. The arts must play a part in that big society but it just got a little smaller this week.

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Saturday, 2 April 2011

Peace-loving protestors?

Later today the English Defence League are holding a protest in Blackburn which, according to them, will be peaceful. I am not sure how they can be so sure as they also tell us that they manage to attract "wrong-uns". How could such a peace-loving organisation attract those with a violent nature? Come to that, why are they demonstrating in Blackburn? It isn't the Blackburn branch (if there is one) that has organised the event. On the other hand Blackburn and Darwen Unite Against Racism (BADUAR) has organised a counter-protest. I am taking a wild guess here but the organisers may come from Blackburn and Darwen.

I used to work in Blackburn and I have also worked in Oldham. I found no overt racism in these areas but I have been much more likely to come across opposition to Muslim extremists in towns where there is no significant ethnic minority. Why have this group picked on a town with a significant ethnic population? It sounds antagonistic to me. It is the sort of planning that may attract "wrong-uns". Why are these people so concerned with extremists who are Muslim? Could we not condemn all extremists including Dr Terry Jones who is in the news because he burned the Koran?

Taxi drivers in Blackburn have decided to go on strike for 24 hours from 6am. They are doing this because they are concerned for their own safety. I hope there is no violence in Blackburn today but even if everything runs smoothly I am not sure it is anything to do with planning from the EDL.

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Friday, 1 April 2011

It sounds a bit fishy

When the Rainbow Warrior was sunk by the French secret service there was a backlash against the French and their nuclear testing. It turned out that the French had to pay Greenpeace over $8 million and it caused testing to be halted. Sometimes subterfuge doesn't pay. Prior to the sinking New Zealand wasn't too bothered about French testing. After the sinking it sent a flotilla of yachts to Moruroa in order to protest.

On Wednesday I saw footage of cruelty against an elephant and protests were taking place in Knutsford against the Bobby Roberts Super Circus who owned the elephant. It struck me that if this was a genuine beating then the man was sick. The circus owners said that he would have been sacked if he had not disappeared. Let's presume he was not sick. What other motivation could the man have? Well I can think of one easy answer. If I wanted to ban animals from the circus I would like footage of a man beating an elephant, so I would set up a camera and release the footage. The only thing that I would have to learn from the French in New Zealand would be to make sure that the culprit did not get caught, for example I could make him disappear.

I happen to think that a circus could offer a stable environment for an animal as opposed to say the wild. Protest may be legitimate but it can't be based on a mad keeper who disappears after acting in what looks like an evil manner in front of a camera. This action, like the sinking of a former trawler sounds a bit fishy to me.

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