Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Tory Lies or Labour Cluelessness?

Three days ago I received a post on my Facebook news feed which was entitled 'Top Ten Tory Lies of 2013 and had been shared by a Labour supporter. I subsequently placed it on my timeline and added this comment - "I received this photo on my news feed yesterday. It is a shoddy piece of work by Labour supporters, not referencing any sources to justify either what it says are Tory claims or its supposed refutation of those claims. You're just supposed to take it all on trust. Well, while I'm no apologist for the Tories, I do think there are mistakes in this list and I was wondering if anyone who supports its claims would be interested in defending them with actual referenced facts. Perhaps we could then have a reasoned discussion / debate".  Since the post was just an image, I can't copy and paste the text it contains. I can't be bothered to type them all, so here's just the first five items, first the supposed claims and then the supposed refutations:

1 David Cameron: Royal Mail was making a loss when privatised
2 Grant Shapps: The Tories have cut the national debt
3 Esther McVey: Unemployment has fallen 400,000 since May 2010
4 David Cameron: House building is up a third under the Tories
5 Iain Duncan Smith: Child Poverty rose under Labour

1 Royal Mail doubled its profits to £403 million in the last full year of trading before being privatised
2 National Debt has climbed by £427,000,000,000+ under the Tories
3 Unemployment was up 23k at the time the claim was made (since down 00.08m)
4 House Completions have fallen to 89 year lows in most recent data
5 Child Poverty fell 50% under Labour. It's up 300,000 under IDS

I said on Facebook that the list didn't reference any sources. The reply I received there was that "the sources on the 1st list are clearly named". But by "reference" I don't just mean a name, I mean something which would allow me to perform a meaningful check. David Cameron, Grant Shapps etc. have said a lot of things over the years.

Googling "David Cameron: Royal Mail was making a loss when privatised" (without the quotation marks) didn't bring up anything relevant in the first page. All I can really say about the privatisation is that it is something which has been in the pipeline for well over a decade, and I'm pretty sure the coalition just completed steps which were started under New Labour. Whether it was a necessary step may be open to question, but it went remarkably well as privatisations go.

For "Tories have reduced national debt (Grant Shapps)" I've been searching for a while now without finding anything which would substantiate the Labour claim. I did find something from Grant Shapps about cutting the DEFICIT, though. The deficit, which reached insane proportions under Labour, is the amount by which our spending as a nation exceeds our income. It has to be cut all the way to zero and beyond before the debt starts going down. It looks like the author of point two doesn't even know the difference between deficit and debt, which might explain why both skyrocketed under Labour.

And so on, down the list. Is there anyone out there willing and able to defend just one of the points on the list with actual, verifiable facts?

Change the World

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happy Christmas

I still have nearly three hours to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and a prosperous 2014, but not too prosperous as we don't want any more of that boom and bust stuff.

Just like David Cameron's photos in the 2010 poster campaign, this photo has not been manipulated (but it was taken in December 2009).

Happy Christmas

Monday, 23 December 2013

Vote Of No Confidence In Facebook Page

Today a friend shared a link to a Facebook page from 'Vote of No Confidence in the UK Coalition'. I have read the link but initially I didn't get past the first sentence as it began with 'why is our unelected government...?' I replied to him on my Facebook page that this is the first government since WWII in which the majority of votes have gone to the MPs in power. The reply came back that if this is the case then we need full electoral reform - we agreed immediately! He did go on to write that constituents in the neighbouring Westmorland and Lonsdale 'got a Tory government they didn't vote for'. I am sure that Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat MP in that constituency, would disagree and so do I (and so does the Facebook group if the title is anything to go by).

I did check the Facebook site for the vote of no confidence group and I suppose they were bound to respond to my comment about the 'unelected government' as it strikes at the heart of their raison d'etre. They wrote 'Michael, it is a coalition in name only, and as for them being elected, they weren't. Neither the Tories nor the Lib Dems won enough seats to govern, so the Tories did a dodgy deal with the Lib Dems and took power without the permission of the people, the majority of whom would have rather seen the election voided and another taken...'

If this Facebook group has no confidence in the coalition and wish to undermine the government then where do they place their confidence? Is it that they are Labour supporters but feel they have more gravitas without a direct link? Are they supporters of Russell Brand's revolution? Are they simply trying to stir things up? If they are Labour supporters then wouldn't it be more honest (that's an adjective not often associated with politicians) to own up to it? Whoever they are they certainly haven't grasped the idea of full electoral reform.

I am sure that the Liberal Democrats are playing a large part in Government - too large for many Tories. David Cameron told us that we couldn't raise the tax threshold. Would anyone deny that this is a Liberal Democrat policy? We have the steady hand of Vince Cable in the Treasury. The Secretary of state for Energy and Climate Change is the Liberal Democrat Ed Davey. Haven't the Tories given up on the green agenda so Liberal Democrats can lay claim to these policies too.If you want to know how many Tory policies have been scuppered then I believe that David Cameron has a little black book of them. No O' Levels or two-tier education system. No profit-making schools. No inheritance tax cuts for millionaires. No ditching of the human rights act. No 'go home' poster vans...

As much as the Facebook group would like to support Labour, they can't claim success on these and many other issues because they are the opposition. Labour has no power. It is quite refreshing to write that after years of having this criticism labelled at the Liberal Democrats but I write this not with a sense of hubris but because of unfounded criticism. If this Facebook group really want to undermine the government then they have to tell us about a better alternative and if they want to do so objectively then they have to list the successes too and how the coalition had to deal with an economy which was profoundly unbalanced. My friend got it right immediately. We need full electoral reform.Why am I thinking that this is not on the agenda for the Facebook group?

Change the world

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

How To Turn People Off Politics

The last time I wrote a blog which mentioned the campaigning organisation 38 degrees it was about a petition on their website which was badly written. I don't know how anyone could have signed it. It was so bad I even got a comment on the blog from a member of their staff who disowned the content. I have come across 38 degrees again in a Facebook link and again it concerns Michael Gove. I have to confirm again that I am not a Michael Gove fan so please take this blog entry as a criticism of 38 degrees in allowing this particular petition and as a criticism of the comments that relate to the link on Facebook.

It is one thing not to like Michael Gove's policies but it is another not to like him. To save you from clicking on the link I'll tell you that the petition to the Prime Minister says get rid of Michael because he is a waste of space. It goes on to justify this view by saying he is a waste of space. Hardly the most compelling of arguments. It does tell us that some teachers have disagreed with him but there is no reference to anyone or to anything that Michael has (or has not) done. There is a criticism that Michael has denied 'expert opinion' but the author should know that Michael has his own 'experts' so it's not a valid argument. Perversely it concludes ' Michael Gove must be persuaded to resign' when the headline was 'remove Michael Gove from Office' and was addressed to the Prime Minister. I'm fairly sure this petition wasn't written by 38 degrees since it was on a section of their website which invites members of the public to contribute. However they have to take some responsibility for the errors. On the other hand I really hope that the petition was not written by a teacher. That would be the saddest indictment of our education system.

The person in the street is not interested in personal abuse of politicians. All it does is switch them off politics. All they see is politicians praising themselves for an educational system that allowed grade inflation, then they see politicians praising themselves for a system that stopped grade inflation (for grade inflation please read any other political change in our educational system). 

The motivation for this blog did not come from the petition but from the comments on the Facebook page... 'get him gone can not stand him'. When did this become personal? People who should know better are clicking on 'like' when what they are liking is personal insult. I may not agree with Michael Gove and would argue against his policies, but I would defend his right to implement his decisions and to do so without personal abuse.

Change the world

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Mail Gets Article Wrong

There is a report in the Mail Online which is on the subject of Muslims protesting about the sale of alcohol by other Muslims in east London. Unfortunately this report in the Mail looks like it is pandering to racism. Let's give the Mail the benefit of the doubt and take the view that the protesters are wrong. It is wrong to tell shopkeepers what they can and can't sell and it is wrong that they are inciting violence. In this case the law should be used against these protesters. I suppose the Mail will say that there has been no legal action so far which means that they are allowed to give their opinion without giving prejudice to the legal proceedings.

Now take the view that  the protesters are right (which means the Mail is wrong). Doesn't everyone have the right to peaceful protest? This is not a balanced report as the protesters may just be using their legal rights to protest peacefully. If this is not the case and it happens that a court case ensues then the Mail is hardly setting the scene for justice to prevail. David Cameron learned about this earlier in the week.I don't know if protests were peaceful or whether they are breaking the law but what I do know it that this report has incited xenophobia.

It may not be the Mail's own Facebook page but their article is given a link by another Facebook page which doesn't make pleasant reading. "This is our country not theirs...". I don't want to quote any further from this site or give you the link as it is full of hatred. I wonder if the Mail realised that their report would cause such an outbreak of public anger? The Mail was wrong in that they didn't stress that the protesters are in the minority who will be opposed by the majority of Muslims - you can read the comments from Muslims on the Mail website. In the main article the Mail does quote a couple of Muslim anti-extremist spokespersons, however this does not make it clear that theirs is the mainstream view.

I don't know the details of this protest but it is really important that we remain a tolerant country that allows peaceful protest whatever we may believe ourselves. Balanced reporting would be nice too.

Change the world 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Mail Gets Headline Right

It was nice to see a headline in today's Mail Online, "Lib Dems have held us back, says Cameron: PM says Britain deserves a 'more accountable' Government than the Coalition". So the Tories are saying that the Liberal Democrats are wielding power. Liberal Democrats are saying that too but it sounds so much better when it comes from the Prime Minister. It sounds so much better if Liberal Democrats have restricted the cuts to vital services and although the article emphasises that the Conservatives are the party to cut tax, the corollary is that Liberal Democrats support the social nature of government and need taxation to pay for it. I have always thought that the role of government is to redistribute wealth as capitalism is far from perfect and the rich will look after themselves.

I have written a recent blog on Russell Brand and if you take a look you will realise that I am not his greatest fan, but Russell does have a point that many would relate to when he spoke to Jeremy Paxman about the need for wealth distribution. We may not be near a revolution but that does not mean that things can't change.

I have agreed with the first half of the Mail's headline which is something I don't say too often, but I also agree with the second half. Doesn't everyone want more accountable government? The trouble is that the report does not mention more accountable government. David wants more accountability but not a more accountable government. The headline should have read that David wants more power. I wish he had meant accountability as many who are on the electoral register (again like Russell Brand) do not feel that they are part of the political system so they don't vote. A headline about a politician asking for more power isn't going to get them voting again.

Change the world

Monday, 9 December 2013

It's Not Brain Surgery

I have a friend who suffers from mental illness. I don't know the diagnosis but I do know that she feels that all the world is against her. She also feels that anything that involves other people and goes wrong is actually deliberate and against her. This includes getting the medication wrong that is supposed to be helping her. So if her name is wrong on the prescription or label for the medication then it's a deliberate error. If the pharmacy doesn't have the tablets then it's deliberate too. The doctor might write mane (take them in the morning) and it may become nocte (take them at night) after a visit to pharmacy. So many things have gone wrong that the doctor doesn't want her to visit a pharmacy again and she picks them up from hospital.

Tablets are picked up on Monday mornings after 8.30am. So 10am was a safe bet to pick them up and they weren't ready but would be delivered by 12.30pm. This made matters worse. She couldn't go and I was asked to pick them up. They weren't ready and I was told that she should not have been told 12.30pm as there is no delivery before 1pm. I didn't use the word iatrogenenic (disease caused by medical intervention) but I did tell the receptionist that she was worse and this is why tablets were being picked up at the hospital. I asked if this message could get back to the doctor as I am sure that he would like to know that his intervention was making matters worse. I was also hoping that communication could improve as when I worked in the NHS and a physio was off sick we used to phone the patients to let them know. No such luck here.

I went again at 3pm and was wondering whether to ask if my request to inform the doctor had been acted on. I told a different receptionist why I was there and he told me categorically that no medication was dispensed on Mondays. He went on to tell me in great detail how medication is only dispensed on other days. I know it is not funny but I laughed because he was so wrong and he felt he was so right. I am not ill. I don't have to pick up any tablets but this person tells me that there is always something wrong with her tablets. Pharmacies are so bad that one health professional told her that there was one good one in Morecambe. It is a sad indictment of all the other Morecambe pharmacies when one is mentioned as good (this pharmacy had been tried and wasn't).

If I wasn't sure at 3pm whether I should check on my polite request to inform the doctor then I was sure after the third receptionist of the day had got it so wrong. It's a good job I'm not ill because I may have been after one day of trying to get tablets. After a gentle explanation of what had happened in the day, I received the tablets. I asked the pharmacist if she could ensure that the message would get to the doctor. The primary reason was to let the doctor know that he was inadvertently causing ill health but maybe my primary aim was to improve communication between receptionists. I left with the feeling that the pharmacist didn't really get the problem - and that's the problem.

What does it matter if you don't have exactly the right name on the label for your medication as long as it is the right medication? What does it matter if mane becomes nocte as long as the medication is taken at the right time? What does it matter if it takes three trips instead of one to get tablets that could have taken one trip if a phone call with accurate information had been made? Some may say that the patient still gets the tablets and the patient isn't doing anything special so it's no big deal. It is a big deal and highly trained receptionists and pharmacists have to recognise this.

I am sure that my friend is not on her own. Most patients who see a slight error would dismiss it at once but anyone may feel that the world is against them and getting the name wrong adds to that feeling. Getting the name right is not brain surgery.

Change the world

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Nelson Mandela - a hero of all time

Nelson Mandela has made all the recent headlines since his death two days ago. Television has had nothing but praise for the 'freedom fighter' and world leaders have added their eulogies. This is understandable as he was quite possibly the most significant statesman in the past hundred years. However one person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist and you don't have to look too far in our internet age to find some adverse comments.

Nick Griffin tweeted that Nelson Mandela was a 'murdering old terrorist'. I am sure that the BNP leader is not on his own in this view and you don't have to go back too far to realise that many prominent mainstream politicians held the same view. If you click on this link you will read that these politicians include Margaret Thatcher, John Carlisle, Terry Dicks and Teddy Taylor. Many in the Conservative Party held this view and some still do, even though David Cameron has apologised for "The mistakes my party made in the past with respect to relations with the ANC..."

I have only searched the internet for an hour or so and there must be significant detail to be found on the acts of 'terrorism' carried out by the ANC but I haven't found it. I have heard about acts of sabotage, but that is all. It is wrong to act violently and the ANC may have done so, but all I have read or heard is about Nelson Mandela the lover of peace and for that reason Nick Griffin, some Conservatives and anyone who can't join in the tributes to this great man are wrong. David Cameron calls him "not just a hero of our time but a hero of all time". I agree with David (and I don't say that very often) but this is not a view held by all his party.

Change the world

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

David Morris: Political Inspiration

It is worth following my MP, David Morris on Twitter if you are writing a political comedy (or tragedy depending on your point of view). I can't find much on his postings with which I can agree and I often write about them on this blog. So it was no surprise to find that I found new motivation to write a blog today because of his post.

You may just think that David is being  polite in thanking his Tory colleague for opening a 'walk-in' centre in Morecambe. Unfortunately the Speaker didn't agree. David was trying to make political capital out of this walk-in centre by saying that it was closed under the previous government in 2006. He had to be reminded by  John Bercow that "First, topical questions are supposed to be brief. Secondly, the Minister is not responsible for what happened in 2006. We will have a very brief reply and then perhaps we can move on". Well done John, what a pity David doesn't know how Parliament works.

David Morris should know how Parliament works as he has been there long enough.  However, more important than David's knowledge of procedure is the content of his speech. Did Labour close a walk-in service in 2006? Of course they didn't. David should know this too from a previous question  in Westminster. To save you clicking on the link I'll tell you that David asked if there were any plans for a walk-in centre in Morecambe in 2011. It would have been a good question. Unfortunately the answer from the Tory Minister for Health was that it's nothing to do with him and everything to do with the local NHS.

David, please don't waste your constituents time in Westminster by asking the wrong people the wrong questions. Please don't take credit where it isn't due, and please don't criticise Andy Burnham when you know it was a local NHS decision. And this man is my MP.

I nearly pressed publish a couple of hours ago but I have just been to a Morecambe GP practice and spoken to two receptionists. There were plans for a walk-in centre but they never materialised - maybe that's why I didn't find it by doing a search. They also told me that there was no walk-in centre that closed in 2006. I keep my ears open and I worked locally in the NHS in 2006 and I'd never heard of it. There is a new scheme which is an addition to the usual out-of-hours system which allows patients to see a doctor but it isn't walk-in. How can my MP be so wrong on so many counts? The worst of it is that he thinks he is advertising how hard he is working by showing me what he is doing on Twitter.

Change the world

Taxis are not unacceptable

I used to be a physiotherapist and worked in the NHS but I also worked for football, rugby and American Football teams. There were other medical professionals to call on but I was the first contact for injured players. Some would be standing and ready to play again before I reached them. On some occasions the game stopped and an ambulance had to take the player to hospital. It was usually fairly obvious when players had to go to hospital and if there was any doubt then I would send them.

On one occasion an American Football player broke his collar bone. Diagnosis wasn't difficult as you can see a broken clavicle. He asked me if he could play on and I had to tell him that he was on his way to hospital. I mention this player because sometimes you can get fairly serious injuries and not think that you have to go to hospital. There must be many people who don't need an ambulance to get to A&E. Some can walk or catch a taxi or get a friend to drive them. A friend drove me on the one occasion that I needed to stay in hospital following a rugby injury (I was playing at the time, not the physio).

I don't think there is anything that is too controversial in the last two paragraphs, so why did we get Andy Burnham, the Shadow Secretary of State for Health condemning the use of taxis yesterday in the House of Commons? Apparently Bristol is the place at the centre of the ambulance/taxi story with the 350% increase in taxi use: the story is that 'The former Great Western Ambulance Service (GWAS), which operated in the Bristol area until February this year, sent 158 taxis to 999 calls in 2012/13, according to figures obtained by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham'.

So it is a former service, it doesn't even operate any more and hasn't since February, and, significantly 158 taxis in a year is less than one every two days. The Bristol Post story also points out,
'A spokeswoman for SWAS said: “Taxis are only used to transport patients in a very small minority of cases where it is clinically safe and appropriate to do so. This would not occur in emergency or life threatening situations.

“In percentage terms the use of taxis across the north division (former GWAS) is less than 0.05 per cent of the total number of calls responded to during 2012/13 which stands at 288,538.”
It may be appropriate to use taxis and would save the tax payer a lot of money if we get patients to hospitals using the most efficient method. There may even be a case for a police officer driving someone to hospital (which was also a complaint made by Andy). Let's say that no ambulance is available and minutes are important to the health of the casualty. I can imagine many scenarios in which the police, vital though their task is to keep law and order, may take out a few minutes and act as a taxi/ambulance driver.

Andy said "information from police forces reveals that cases in which police cars have to ferry patients to A&E are far more widespread than people realise..." I don't know what people realise so I can't comment on that but taking a patient to hospital is not such a bad thing, even for a police officer. It may not be in the job description but that officer would always have a friend or two in the community after such an action and isn't that what a good citizen does, never mind a good police officer.

Andy wasn't happy and added "He (Jeremy Hunt) did not condemn the use of taxis, which is unacceptable but is happening on his watch because ambulances are trapped at A&E, unable to hand over patients". I can't condemn the use of taxis and neither should Andy and as you have read, I support their use when it is appropriate. He may have a point about ambulances being trapped but if he does then maybe he should ask questions with more humility. This problem has been going on even when he was the Secretary of State for Health, and I can think of quite a few bigger problems that he presided over.

Change the world.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Gibraltar: dire straits

Have you ever found that legal documents aren't worth the paper they are printed on? I'll let you think of your own examples. It may be a land dispute with a neighbour. It may be that the freedom of the city is meaningless when you try to graze your sheep on a roundabout. My example is the treaties of Utrecht which were written in 1713. Among other things they were supposed to stop France gaining an empire in Europe, but less than a hundred years later Napoleon had other ideas. Times change and Napoleon had the idea that the sword was mightier than the pen.

It so happens that Gibraltar was also handed over to Britain following the treaties at at Utrecht. This is fairly significant if you want world domination as control of Mediterranean shipping was fairly important at that time. Who said that history is written by the victors as the treaties hadn't stopped Britain's designs on empire building. We had won the war of Spanish succession and France had lost. We took Gibraltar because it was important for us to build our empire. Why was an empire bad for France and good for Britain? Well we won.

There is now a dispute between Gibraltar and Spain and my MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, David Morris has added his voice to the debate. There is no mention of territorial waters in the Utrecht documents but 3 nautical miles is widely accepted throughout the world. Two days ago David called for diplomatic pressure to be stepped up in order to 'prevent Spanish ships from encroaching into Gibraltar’s soverign territorial waters'.

Is David picking on Spanish ships or is he protecting Gibraltar from all international shipping? Well it's Gibraltar's waters so I presume he means the latter. If he does then I would also presume that he gives the same rights to Morocco. The Straits of Gibraltar are 7.7 nautical miles. If Gibraltar and Morocco both ban international shipping from their waters that leaves 1.7 nautical miles for the whole of the Mediterranean traffic.  Back in 1713 control of the Straits of Gibraltar was important even when the straits just gave access to the Med. Now, in conjunction with the Suez canal, they also give access to an important shortcut to the far east.

It is not acceptable to impose severe restrictions on international shipping but let's give David the benefit of the doubt and guess that he would allow shipping in Gibraltar's waters as long as it is alright with Gibraltar. This means that this dispute over territorial waters is actually about the much deeper dispute between Britain and Spain and the territorial rights over Gibraltar. We can legislate on top of legislation, as David is planning, to ban Spanish shipping which results in all shipping going through an extremely narrow gap or we can try to get along.  Diplomacy this isn't.

Change the world

P.S. I have just (7.30pm on the 20th Nov) found this article on David's Gibraltar Bill. It seems that Gibraltar's territorial waters could be 12 nautical miles from shore. Maybe David wants UK coastguard support to be based in Tangier.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A mobile workforce is good

A mobile workforce is good for many reasons. It means that workers can work. It means that skilled professionals are doing their job. It means that those without skills can move to find work. Immigrants to this country make a net contribution to the country. They provide an essential service and boost our economy. So how did a mobile workforce within the EU become a dirty word? Well it doesn't help when UKIP call for a five-year freeze on immigration. It doesn't help when 'Jack Straw  regrets opening door to Eastern Europe migrants'.

Immigration is seen by some as an awful concept, and they use arguments like we are a small island and we don't have enough jobs for the current population. The trouble with this is that immigrants come to the UK and work. They add to our economy and play a vital role. Why is it alright to stop immigration but not emigration? We want the freedom to work elsewhere but we don't want to give it to others even when it is to our advantage?

Should we be able to study in other countries? Of course we should. We would have to pay for the privilege but that goes without saying and that is what foreign students are doing in our universities. Should we be able to use our manual labour in other countries? Well if we can compete against the locals (if there are any locals applying) and get that offer of employment then we should be able to emigrate. Similarly if we have a skill that is needed elsewhere then we should have the freedom to take up offers of employment. If enough professionals take up these offers then it may be called a brain drain but that's the price of freedom. Nobody calls it a brain drain when we have foreign doctors working in our hospitals. 

Any argument for emigration may be turned around and used for immigration. It isn't a bad thing but is a sign of freedom. It makes sense that immigrants come to work here. They don't come to take benefits. The argument should be about helping our economy and a free movement of the workforce does just that. What doesn't help is Jack Straw saying that no restrictions on 'eastern European' (why not France or Spain or anywhere else?) migrants was a 'spectacular mistake'.

Change the world

Russell Wrong on Revolution

Jeremy Paxman may be well known for his aggressive interviews with politicians and he is perhaps most famous for his interview with Michael Howard in which he asked the same question 13 times. I would guess that most were on Jeremy's side against a politician who wasn't answering the question. However Jeremy more than met his match recently when he spoke with Russell Brand. The tables should not have been turned. Jeremy should have been able to apply just as much pressure on his interviewee, after all, Russell doesn't vote but wants political change. In fact Russell doesn't feel anyone should vote as no candidate is worthy of that vote. According to Russell, politicians are not trying to change a system that leaves a huge gap between rich and poor.

Russell is wrong in calling for revolution. He is wrong in saying that we are ready for a revolution. We aren't. Expectations have not been raised so they can't be lowered and there cannot be a strong sense of injustice to inspire revolution. Russell is also wrong to say that change cannot come about in our present system. My memory is good enough to know that the people I went to school with didn't have holidays (I didn't either). Nobody had a car. There was one television in the house, not one for every room. A trip to the theatre was a yearly event. There were no computers, no mobile phones and no home cinemas, and the only 'wet' rooms were caused by a leaking roof. I could go on but you get the picture. We are better off but I know that much more could be done and so does Russell. 

Russell will get support when he says that if big business is served before the voter then the impact of change is minimal. Where he is wrong is to think that voters under our present democracy have no influence. In a democracy individuals have the chance to change opinion and to change government, just as he has done in his interviews. Unfortunately Russell's influence may lead to a weakening of democracy. If he really wants a revolution then what will change? Russell doesn't know because he tells us that he isn't clever enough to know. Unfortunately it won't be the cleverest voices that are heard after a revolution, it will be the loudest. The main problem with Russell's thinking is that after a revolution things will almost certainly get worse.

Russell may have been told that "it was the expression of the knowledge that democracy is irrelevant that resonated" but those that told him were wrong. Democracy is highly relevant. We fought for it in the war and with attacks like this we have to defend it. As a Liberal Democrat I believe that our democracy is not good enough and I have always fought to improve it. And that's how Jeremy should have criticised Russell. Unfortunately Jeremy, as a non-voter, was on Russell's side and it came across in the interview.

Change the world

Friday, 8 November 2013

Democracy: flawed but not nasty

A democracy, according to Oxford Dictionaries is 'a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives', and adds 'control of an organization or group by the majority of its members'.  Well in 2010 the Tories did very well and achieved  a great increase in their percentage vote which went to 36.1%. With 23.0% voting for the Liberal Democrats this means that 59.1% of voters managed to give their support to this Government. Have a look here and you will see that in all the general elections since 1945 this Government is unique in receiving the support of more than 50% of the voters.

So we can say that we are living in a democracy but many would argue that all other elections were part of a great British tradition of democracy. They will be looking at the figures for the number of MPs in each party but what this means is that there are many constituencies in which blue is bound to win and many others in which red will do the same. All the losers (usually the majority) won't think much of this democracy. 

Democracy should mean that individual opinions matter. It should mean that everyone has the ability to make change happen but in reality individuals don't have a strong voice and there is a huge group of non-voters. It's nothing to do with their ability to vote. If they could vote at weekends or online or by any other method they would still not be bothered and part of the blame has to go with the politicians and part with the system of voting. There will be many other reasons but if no election is ever won by one vote then you can hardly expect any one individual to think that their vote counts. If all you hear is politicians calling each other then you can hardly expect voters to think their candidates are worthy of their vote. I often see the words 'this nasty' before the word 'Government'. This is not an attack on a particular policy, it is an attack on politicians. It is an attack on what we have left of a democracy. It is a pity that some Labour supporters cannot see this.

Change the world

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Press freedom is good. Fairness would be nice too.

I am all for the freedom of the press. Everyone should be able to say what they want within the usual constraints  (I am thinking in particular of inciting to violence, and the rules on defamation and invasion of privacy give in article ten of the European Convention on Human Rights).

Well on the 21st  October,  The Sun apologised because it had told us that there were hundreds of thousands of benefit tourists. Why would The Sun want to make up such a story? The answer is easy. It wants to sell newspapers and if that means pandering to fear then it will do so regardless of whether there is any evidence.

I believe that everyone should be free to write what they want but the press, particularly the most widely bought newspaper in the country, has a responsibility to write with accuracy. Fairness would be nice too but maybe that's too much to expect.

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Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Missing Link

We had visitors today who travelled up the M6 from Stoke. No problems with the traffic except (you've guessed it) through Lancaster. It doesn't matter whether it is the people of the Morecambe peninsula who drive to the M6 or whether it is friends and relations travelling to Morecambe, the usual bottleneck is Lancaster.

In the same conversation we also spoke about the industry in Morecambe. They need to send their goods out of the area and some will be sent around the nation and possibly to other nations. For them the importance of a good link road will be national or international. For visitors across the nation the link road is of national importance.

Morecambe's economy is inextricably linked to its infrastructure. So why are those who are against the road so vociferous? 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Centralism in a Pickle

Eric Pickles always provides inspiration to write a blog. Today he was on the Sunday Politics show talking with Andrew Neil and the subject was localism. The article told us how, in opposition, David Cameron wanted a shift of power from Whitehall to local people. In 2009 David told us that "when one-size-fits-all solutions are dispensed from the centre it's not surprising they so often fail local communities". Never let it be said that I can't agree with Tory politicians.

However we are then told that in the last few months Eric has tried to ban local councils from using CCTV cameras and from using spy cars to fine motorists. He has criticised councils who wanted to raise more council tax. He has told them they have to allow for the bins when building houses (what's the definition of micromanagement?) and a few other directives by Eric were mentioned along the same centralism lines. This, on its own isn't too bad. Eric is allowed to have views that give more power to Whitehall even if he is a supporter of the Localism Act 2011. It may be the case that Eric can give many more examples for which he supports decision-making at a local level.

The problem is that Eric goes on to support the anti-localism points by saying that he is helping local people from Whitehall - and this is the sort of 1984 logic that really drives me to distraction, but I'll try to stick to the point. Eric says "localism is not about giving power to local councils. It's going beyond local councils to local people". Eric feels that there are many injustices being carried out and he gives one example in which he is simply trying to raise the importance of the town centre. It seems that at present there is five-minute parking leeway before a ticket is given and he wants this to be fifteen. Eric feels that it is important for local people to be able to buy a pint of milk and only Eric knows this, not the locally elected representatives. Wait a minute. I thought parking restrictions were there for a good reason. I have been missing out on this leeway and parking legally. How foolish of me! Maybe there are also good reasons why people who aren't disabled should park in disabled parking areas and I haven't been told about this too.

Eric may be in charge of planning and building regulations nationally but he is missing the point about localism. Local planning departments may be responsible to Eric but they have to interpret his regulations and that isn't Eric's job. If Eric really believes that sending directives from Whitehall is localism then he doesn't understand what localism means.

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Was Plebgate a Stitch-up?

This morning Andrew Marr asked Damian Green, the Minister for Policing, if Andrew Mitchell had been "stitched up". Damian refused to give his opinion because the CPS investigations are still taking place. I don't mind giving mine and the answer is yes. As with most questions the answer is not quite that simple. There may have been a stitch up but you can only do this to someone who has done something wrong. You can't sting people who don't fall for the sting. One of my favourite political phases is (with tongue firmly in cheek) that if you have done nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear. Well maybe civil rights are more important than trite phrases.

I wrote about Andrew Mitchell at the time of Plebgate and I have heard nothing to change my mind on anything that I wrote then. It may well be that the CPS decide that some police officers have done something wrong but Andrew Mitchell is still not smelling of roses. Our faith in the police service is important and so is faith in politicians. The main point in Plebgate concerns how some politicians view the police but on another level, wouldn't it be nice to hear something about the importance of civil rights.

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Monday, 7 October 2013

How not to criticise

I am not Michael Gove's biggest fan. In fact I am not a fan at all and his lowness on my list of priorities is the only thing that has prevented me from writing blogs recently to explain why. I will get around to something critical in the near future, but in the meantime ...

Yesterday I saw a Facebook comment that criticised Michael and I found myself in the strange position of defending our Secretary of State for Education. A Facebook friend had shared a link about him which originated from the campaigning organisation 38 degrees. They wrote 'Dear Mr Gove, Before you make any further suggestions of how you think the education system can be 'improved', please experience what teaching actually involves. As teachers, we work extremely hard in increasingly difficult conditions. We would like you to teach a class of primary children for at least half a term in order to appreciate and respect what a challenging job we actually do.'

38 degrees presume that Michael has no experience of 'what teaching actually involves'. I find this hard to believe. Do they really want him to take months away from his post? Are they really suggesting that Michael should become a teacher when he is not qualified? Do they want him to complete a course in teacher training? Their suggestion is absurd. It doesn't matter whether Michael Gove can teach. You don't have to experience the pressure on teachers to understand it. I am definitely not a Michael Gove fan and there is plenty of ammunition that could be fired at him but this isn't it. In fact it weakens the anti-Gove case when such accusations are levelled against him.

I wrote on Facebook that I had worked with a physiotherapist who was now a union official for the teachers. She does a very good job but she hasn't been a teacher. It is worth criticising Michael Gove, but not on matters that are, at best, secondary.

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Saturday, 5 October 2013

Discussion? What discussion?

My MP, David Morris reckons that a Conservative conference is 'a chance to discuss new ideas'. At least that was the headline in my local newspaper, the Morecambe Visitor. Sorry David I watched most of the conference and saw no discussion - unless you count the two retired soldiers who heckled Philip Hammond. However even this is stretching the definition of a discussion as I don't think Philip, and for that matter most of the delegates could hear what the retired soldiers were saying. I know that they were putting the case for the Royal Fusiliers but that is only because I watched the news on television.

Maybe there was discussion of new ideas that I missed on television. Maybe the fringe meetings were where the discussion took place. I carried on reading the article and David 'addressed a fringe event on nuclear power'. Doesn't sound like a discussion to me, but maybe it wasn't just a speech. Maybe there were opposing views that were discussed. It doesn't sound like it. And even if the delegates were allowed to discuss anything they are still delegates. They are told what to say by the people who delegate. Now if they were representatives they would be allowed to think for themselves. All that they would then need would be a motion to vote on.

In this article David gives us no other reason for feeling that any discussion had taken place at the Tory conference. So where does this idea of discussion come from? As for what was seen by the television viewer, we have a Tory Party lurching to the right. If Eric Pickles speaks for the whole party then despite David Cameron telling us how important it is to be in Europe we are about to leave. We will continue to face spending cuts even when they are not necessary to balance the budget.

Whatever the subject, whoever the speaker, David Morris needs to be clear that there are no discussions and no votes at a Tory conference. This blog may have been written because of a sub-editor writing the wrong headline but at least it is clear that discussions don't take place at a Tory conference and the delegates wouldn't be able to give their opinion even if they wanted to!

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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Why is Alexei anti-Labour?

I have always felt that there is a role for government in redistributing wealth. There is a huge social aspect to government. It has many other roles but I place the social role fairly high up. Having said that, I went to see Alexei Sayle on Monday who was reading from his books. He still has political 'rage' but he saves most of it for his stand-up shows. Alexei's parents were members of the Communist Party and so was he. He still holds strong political views and as you would expect he is anti-Tory. So why is he more anti-Labour?

It is a a fairly easy question to answer as both Labour and Conservatives compete with  each other as to how to implement very similar policies. The last time Alexei was on Question Time he was asked about the pasty tax. There was no sign of outrage as there should have been. He should have been attacking a tax which hurt the poorer members of society. In fact he didn't say anything. For him it was almost irrelevant as the Labour Party had blended in with the Conservatives.

Here is an example of the blending from the Labour Party Conference. Yesterday Ed announced what he hopes will be the main headline that Labour would freeze energy prices for twenty months if they win the 2015 election (yes the same benefit for rich and poor). If average households would save £120 then why doesn't Ed channel precious resources to those who really need £120? If this is so important to some households then why isn't he planning to give half the country £240 and nothing to the other half? Why isn't he planning anything that matches the Liberal Democrats £600 for the poorest? And this is the Labour headline.

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Sunday, 22 September 2013

Focus on this Ed

Ed Miliband was asked by Andrew Marr about the voting power of the union bosses. Ed chose not to answer so Andrew asked again whether a union boss could put his hand up and say "I've got five million votes here". It is an important question about Labour Party democracy so it is worth asking twice. Ed ignored Andrew again and told him "the really big question for people watching this programme Andrew is how we deal with their living standards crisis". There are flaws with this answer. It doesn't address Andrew's big question (again) and secondly there are many people watching the programme who are not asking this question.

Eventually Ed says that the way that conference works will be looked at. So the answer to Andrew's original question should have been "I have no idea". Andrew quite rightly comments in relation to his question "so that at this stage we don't know the answer to what I was asking". Ed has no option but to accept this comment. So Andrew tries again. Is Ed absolutely clear how he will put an end to the old politics and yes, Ed is absolutely clear (even if he doesn't have an answer to the first question). I didn't hear Andrew at this point but he does manage to stick his hand up as if casting a vote at conference. The point is clear. Ed is saying he is absolutely clear but can't answer Andrew's question.

Ed wants to talk vaguely about hearing the views of ordinary people. Gordon Brown heard the views of ordinary people like sixty-five-year-old Gillian Duffy in Rochdale. If you can't remember this ordinary person then I should perhaps remind you that Gordon called her a "bigoted woman". Ed's general phrase means absolutely nothing. Ed is "focused on" how we change the politics of Britain. It is a pity he can't focus on Andrew's question.

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Make job creation easier, not harder

We need apprenticeships, we need a skilled workforce and we need skilled and unskilled members of the workforce matched with job vacancies. It sounds so obvious but it is easy to see how things can go wrong: too few jobs, too few people with the required skills, too few people for the unskilled posts. This means that some employers have to go to other countries to find skilled and unskilled members of staff. This isn't an easy option but if the company wants to get the job done then difficult decisions have to be made.

There is good news. There is a Government drive which is making it easier to take on employees and which is helping to increase the number of apprenticeships. So what can the Labour Party offer in opposition? The Labour Party conference is starting today and they have decided they want more apprentices and that they don't want employers to choose employees from other countries. So they have combined the two ideas

The trouble is that employers already prefer a local workforce. The trouble is that employers already want to employ apprentices. It would be nice to think that the role of government would be to make these preferences easier to implement. Labour has chosen to make these preferences harder to implement. According to Ed, "...we're going to say to any firm who wants to bring in a foreign worker that they also have to train up someone who's a local worker, training up the next generation". There is no doubt that this policy would increase business costs.

What happens if the company can't afford the extra apprenticeships? The firm could go to the wall. There is an alternative scenario. The company decide that they won't employ the highly skilled foreign worker and they go without those skills. And then they slowly go to the wall.

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Friday, 20 September 2013

UKIP: Integrity Is Important

One of today's headlines concerns a UKIP MEP, Godfrey Bloom. Just in case you haven't seen it he had the party whip taken off him for making a joke at the expense of women. In response to one woman admitting that she never cleans behind the fridge, he said "this place is full of sluts". Ironically it was at a UKIP conference fringe meeting entitled 'women in politics'. Godfrey reckons it was a joke and the women in the room enjoyed the joke, so it should not matter that other women may be offended. Sorry Godfrey, it does matter.

Thefreedictionary.com has the definition of slut as 1 a. A person, especially a woman, considered sexually promiscuous. b. A woman prostitute. 2. A slovenly woman; a slattern. In Godfrey's defence, he says he was using the word to mean someone who was not tidy, however most would choose the first definition. Godfrey doesn't recognise it. At the very least Godfrey's hasn't apologised.

A one off joke that demeans women may have a place but there are strict criteria that need to be applied when a joke is made that could hurt someone. The audience needs to be sure that it is a joke and Godfrey really isn't a misogynist. The trouble is that he has form. It was the same MEP who spoke about stopping aid to bongo bongo land. Both comments were made in public and in that context Godfrey cannot be sure that the people who heard him know that he doesn't hate women and he isn't a racist. I don't know the real Godfrey but if they were jokes then they didn't make me laugh. Why would anyone laugh? Godfrey isn't creating a great image and this view was confirmed when he later struck Channel 4's Michael Crick.

I have a few problems with Godfrey's jokes. Firstly, it looks like he actually means what he says. Secondly, many UKIP members will defend him. Thirdly it brings into question how UKIP select their candidates. Do they ask questions about misogyny? Do they ask questions as to whether the candidate is racist?

Paul Nuttall, UKIP's deputy leader was on the local radio news at 8pm and his view was that UKIP had to come to a political decision. I thought it was strange that he used the word 'political'. I thought they just had to come to a decision about Godfrey. Paul went on to explain that it mattered whether the electorate would be happy with a joke about sluts or whether UKIP would gain more votes by taking the whip off Godfrey. I find this unbelievable. He seems to be saying that it doesn't matter what any UKIP member thinks as long as there are votes in it. Anyone who stands at any level of government should have integrity. UKIP should believe in what they stand for regardless of whether those beliefs brings them victory. It looks like UKIP wait to be told what to think.

Change the world.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Don't Call it NHS

I see the NHS as a health service provided by the state and paid for by our taxes. The service is provided regardless of the recipient's ability to pay for the service that they receive. The definition does get more complicated but this is a simple definition and I guess that most would see the NHS as a shining example for the rest of the world. It has its faults and I have written blogs about some of those faults but the general principle is a good one. If someone needs help then it should be given to them.

There is also a Thatcherite principle which spoils the philanthropic ideals of the NHS. If anyone, e.g. a doctor, has a service that they can provide privately then they should be able to do so. This could also be defined as a liberal principle so I have no problem with accepting it even in terms of health care, as long as private health care providers do not gain any unfair advantage over other private health care providers by their connection with the NHS.

I learned from the Independent on Sunday that 'acute hospitals across England expect to rake in almost £500m this year from patients paying for treatments'. Why shouldn't an NHS Trust make money from renting out rooms and so balance their books? The answer is, of course that these hospitals no longer conform to the definition of the NHS. They have evolved a two-tier system that allows those with the ability to pay to jump queues.

The whole point about the NHS is that the need for health care transcends ability to pay. There should be excellent care for all regardless of ability to pay. If it was just a question of a room upgrade then that might be OK, but if it's a different course of treatment involved (or even treatment as opposed to no-treatment) then maybe allow it, but don't call it NHS. Make it clear that what's being provided is not NHS, even if it's on NHS premises, and make sure that the private providers are charged enough to pay for the NHS resources they're consuming.

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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Sorry Ed: No New Unison Members

Ed Miliband has urged unions to have  "the courage to change" in his speech to the TUC at Bournemouth this morning. He is looking for union members to opt in to becoming Labour members rather than getting them to pay an affiliation fee. I was watching the Daily Politics today and two union delegates were being interviewed by Jo Coburn (around 36 minutes into the programme). Both the Unison and the GMB delegates agreed that Ed and the Labour Party’s agenda was not the same as that of the unions. Union members were not asking about their relationship with the Labour Party. Their members were much more interested in improving the economy.

Asked if Ed had chosen the wrong time to pick a fight with the unions, the Unison delegate replied that it wasn’t a fight. Ed was just saying that union members should have a choice as to whether they wished to be a member of the Labour Party. Furthermore Unison members had “always” had that choice. In the next sentence “always” was changed to “over ten years” (note: how long is it since Unison had a closed shop?). 

What this means to me is that Ed has not only chosen the wrong time, he is at least ten years too late, at least with Unison, the second largest union in the UK. Interestingly the Unison delegate did think that the Labour Party could achieve 300,000 new members if Ed gets his way and union members are asked if they want to join his party. How can this be? None of them will be from Unison because their members have already made their choice.

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Sunday, 1 September 2013

A Sad War

The world was horrified at the possibility that chemical weapons had been used in Syria so sent UN inspectors in order to gather evidence. They have now left Syria and we await their report. I am no expert but I think it is fairly easy to tell from the videos that came back from Syrian hospitals that chemical weapons had been used. The real question is who used them? There are reports like this one from Reuters that say it is the rebels and not Assad who used chemical warfare.

So was it President Assad, that calming influence in the Middle East who trained as an intelligent, calm, studious and respected doctor and gained a significant amount of his training in London? During his training the President must have been heavily influenced by rational, stable and sensible Western thinking. Or could it be those nasty rebellious terrorists in Syria, acting as agents provocateurs, who used chemical weapons on themselves in order to gain the sympathy of the rest of the world and provoke attacks on the Syrian Government?

My questions may be biased but there may be an element of truth in them. Indeed, they may be true. Now, according to this BBC report, we learn that the UN inspectors' 'mandate is limited to determining the use of chemical weapons and not who used them'. It goes on to tell us that the US say hundreds of children were killed 'in the suspected chemical weapons attacks' but who was behind those chemical attacks? We don't have the results of the inspection so I wouldn't say we are back to square one quite yet but when we get the results we will be back to square one. Syria says that the US claims are "full of lies"

I was listening to an interview with an imam on Radio Lancashire this morning, and you can still hear the interview on Joe Wilson's programme if you go to 2 hours 47 minutes. According to Wikipedia, estimates of the number of deaths in the Syrian civil war vary between 83,260 and 110,375. One death is one too many but we were told by this imam who had just returned from Syria that there had been 130,000 deaths. He has seen schools and hospitals bombed and death and devastation on an unimaginable scale. You can see how he comes to the conclusion that the UN should act and he blames Russia and China for preventing this action.

The UK Government's vote only concerned the use of chemical warfare and was nothing to do with regime change. The UN, and Russia and China's use of a veto, only relates to the use of chemical warfare. The imam described the horrible deaths of women and children caused by bombing which would appear to be caused by the Syrian Government but this would carry on even if the UN did resolve to act. Whether UN or UK or US action is legal depends on assurances that the use of chemical weapons was ordered by Assad. I am told that chemical weapons could be produced in a domestic bathroom so finding proof as to who is to blame may be difficult.

The imam tells us that we have a 'moral duty to step in'. There may be a moral duty but I would prefer to add a legal duty as well before I went to war. If the imam is right about Assad being behind the use of chemical warfare (and I am not sure how he knows even if has visited Syria) then that must mean that there is another regime that is better than Assad's. I suspect there is such a regime but I would not rule out the possibility that there would be many more murders even with regime change.

I was concerned when the imam who wants to go to war told us that he would not tolerate the actions of Russia and China. He finds their actions "disgusting" and those who support the tyrants (I think he includes in that phrase all those MPs who voted against the UK Government on Thursday) are equally tyrannical. He then blames President Putin for massacres in Chechnya. Both sides in Chechnya have been accused of war crimes  but that isn't the point. The imam thinks that Putin is mad and should be ignored so I think the imam must want to break up the UN. Joe Wilson doesn't make this point but suggests that if Putin is mad then we should be standing by the people of Russia and attacking this regime. The imam's reply is that "good people are not doing enough". So the imam must want to go to war with Syria and with Russia. I am not sure what he wants to do with those tyrants who are MPs.

There is doubt about who has perpetrated war crimes. I am just glad that we don't leave our decision making to imams like this one on Radio Lancashire, even if he has visited Syria recently.

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I Like a Challenge

I do like a challenge and this week I have accepted three. The first two can be seen on YouTube. They were a ukulele tutorial, Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks and a ukulele solo Smile by Charlie Chaplin. Now I have a third challenge which is to give my views on the decline of the seaside resort, in particular the decline of Morecambe, and how regeneration should take place. This is the hardest challenge as there are so many things that could be done.

Seaside resorts have been hit hard for many reasons and there was a rapid decline in the '70s partly caused by cheap flights abroad. Everyone in Morecambe knows this and they also know that prices subsequently fell for all the hotels, bed and breakfasts and all surrounding properties. All you have to do in Morecambe is to look at the grandeur of the buildings to see how they have declined. The Victorian terraces are often huge and families are now small. If you owned a bed and breakfast in the seventies, you were left with a building that wouldn't sell. It is easy to see why they became flats.

These flats are comparatively cheap so where would you rather live, if your budget is limited? In an industrial town or in a seaside town? It is unfortunate that poverty attracts poverty and all governments know that something has to be done, and some do it better than others but at least all parties recognise the problem even if they contributed to it be encouraging the use of these flats by the unemployed from other areas. It is easy to see the attraction of Morecambe. It is easy to see how this was seen as a convenient answer to filling those flats.

In the report,Turning the Tide the Centre for Social Justice looks at this problem and also mentions how seaside accommodation was advertised in prisons. There is no doubt that many unemployed people have jumped at the chance to move from industrial towns (or even from prisons). With more unemployed there was naturally more competition for the remaining jobs and this can't be good if you are in the market for a job. So it can be said that government made the economic position of seaside towns worse rather than better.

Governments also need to look at economic regeneration. They could do worse than look at Bill Bryson's suggestions in his Notes From A Small Island. 'With a little priming and a thoughtful long-term plan, I am sure you could attract the sort of people who would want to open bookshops, little restaurants, antique shops, galleries, maybe even tapas bars and the odd boutique hotel. Well, why not?' He also suggests that a division of the Inland Revenue or some other bureaucracy could move to Morecambe "to give it a bit of year-round life".

There is good news for Morecambe in particular there is the news that in the 2010 statistics from the ONC it has managed to stay out of the list of the fifteen most deprived seaside towns in England. We can also be thankful that Morecambe has stopped trying to compete with Blackpool even if we have to live with the remains of Frontierland, the funfair that was owned by the Thompson family who also own Blackpool's Pleasure Beach.

Again, according to Bill Bryson, 'Morecambe Bay 'is easily one of the most beautiful in the world, with unforgettable views across to the green and blue Lakeland hills: Scafell, Coniston Old Man, the Langdale Pikes'. Nobody calls us Bradford-by-the-sea anymore but the view of the Bay hasn't changed and there are plenty of signs of regeneration. The refurbished Midland hotel is a good start, but there were hopes that it would lead to a regeneration of the area around it, and those hopes are far from realised. This is illustrated in a 2011 video from the Guardian.

The answer is to have vision. The first step is to have the infrastructure in place. Turning the Tide highlights some of the problems and says there is a clear case for more investment in transport and infrastructure in coastal areas. This is especially true for Morecambe, where these things have been held back for so long. The M6 Link road, in particular, is the missing link which has held back all the previous efforts. With that in place maybe the regeneration of Morecambe will be possible.

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Saturday, 31 August 2013

David Morris: Putting the under into Sunderland Point

David feels that he has delivered on Sunderland Point which is a lovely village south of Morecambe on the River Lune which used to be a port before Lancaster took over. The only way of driving there is on a tidal road. The trouble is that erosion is taking hold and villagers are up in arms because coastal defences could be improved. David has taken up their cause. He tells us 'David asked to save Sunderland Point in Parliament. The minister agreed and said "we have to unblock a blockage within government at whatever level that is. DELIVERED".

What does this waffle mean? Let's presume that the blockage is metaphorical. Let's presume that the blockage refers to the Government's decision making process. Let's presume that the minister is looking for easy access to making a decision about Sunderland Point's coastal defence. Does David Morris really think that he has delivered anything? Much more likely, one cog in a Government wheel has turned which actually means nothing to the people who have to live with the prospect of losing their house.

Searching for more information, I found this by Sarah Hymas: "... The other side of the estuary, Sunderland Point, has not been so ... what? Lucky? Argumentative? Economically viable? Whichever - they do not have agreement or financial aid to protect their sea defences, despite the efforts of My Coastline. ...". Sarah links to a 'They Work for you' page which is an excerpt from Hansard 15 Nov 2010 where David Morris asks for something to be done, and the reply he gets does include the "We have to unblock a blockage within government" line but is very short on specific reassurances. Where it does get specific, it's all bad news for Sunderland Point, e.g. "there is not a sufficiently strong case for national funding of flood defences for Sunderland village because there are not the benefits to justify the costs". Fortunately that is not a key issue, as the community has raised the money required to put up a wall of aggregate. It won't cost the taxpayer anything.  The problem is in getting permission to build that wall.

In fact the 'blockage' reference relates to whether some coastal defences (e.g. for Sunderland Point) may cause damage to other areas of the coast. Have a read yourself. It really doesn't look like the Government want to spend anything on Sunderland Point, or to do anything, or to allow anything to be done; and judging by what Sarah writes in 2013, it does seem like any unblockage hasn't amounted to much.

David also feels that he has delivered the M6 Link Road. Well it is nice to have an MP who supports the link rather than our previous Labour MP whose support, at best, was half-hearted. However this process has been going on since 1948. Again David is playing one small role and he thinks he has 'delivered'.

David believes in fair prices for our farmers. Who doesn't? The booklet tells us that 'David was disappointed to learn from his farmer's forum that farmers are receiving such a small amount of money for milk'. Maybe there is only one farmer in his forum but where has David been! Why did he need a farmer's (or farmers') forum to learn that farmers only receive a small amount for their milk? I can also tell him that we don't pay much for eggs or chicken.

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David Morris: Saving Hornby High School (not)

David Morris MP is keen to tell us that Hornby School has reopened. His article in his recent booklet tells us that he worked with Michael Gove to order a review of the closure.  He also tells us that it was the Labour controlled County Council that ordered the closure but David didn't like this so he made it a priority that 'pupils continue to be educated at Hornby'. Michael Gove made a visit to Hornby and David worked with the Conservative controlled LCC so that 'There is now a school at Hornby and once again pupils can be educated at Hornby'.

David says he also ran a campaign 'to ensure that Hornby High School remained as an educational institution'. I don't remember his campaign. That doesn't mean that it didn't happen but I do remember a significant campaign in which I signed the petition to keep the school open. Maybe David's campaign was more low key.

It is interesting to note that control of Lancashire County Council went to the Tories between 2009 and 2013. It is interesting to note that David feels he has 'DELIVERED' a school on the same site.

David's website goes even further than his booklet: 'Hornby High School was later saved when David Morris MP and the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove MP intervened'; but despite the reassurances and rhetoric, despite all the interventions, campaigns and petitions, Hornby High School was not saved. It closed in 2009, and hasn't reopened. The pupils that were educated there had to be relocated elsewhere.  There is a school on the same site but it is nothing to do with the County Council and nothing to do with David, and the pupils it teaches are from far afield, not from Hornby. A Christian group opened an independent school in September 2011 which is now called Hornby Park School.

This article too (see previous blogs) could have been written two years ago. Maybe David will write another booklet called 'David Morris Reporting Back Autumn 2013' and tell us something new?

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Friday, 30 August 2013

David Morris: A Blast from the Past

One of the articles in David Morris’ booklet ‘Reporting Back Autumn 2012’ tells us about his views on Syria. Well, no it doesn’t. The title is ‘Petition for CHANGE’ and it tells us that pupils from Heysham High School organised this petition ‘for the removal of President Assad’. It doesn’t mention whether David agrees with the pupils.

We gain more insight from The Visitor from the 11th July 2012. Yes it is more than a year old and David is only now reporting back but his view is directly relevant to August 2013. Here he states “I’m extremely proud to represent these young people and am delighted to be able to present their petition in Parliament. I hope that governments around the world will continue to work to remove this evil Syrian regime.”

The trouble is that even his own government stops short of asking for regime change. Yesterday’s vote was about a proportionate response to the use of chemical warfare and the resolution related solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering. It did not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.

Maybe David already knows the results of the UN inspection that hasn’t taken place yet. It seems that he is already convinced that military action is needed to overthrow Assad, but shouldn’t he tell us that he is aware of the facts before sending our soldiers to war?

The public have no appetite for war and neither do the 30 Tory MPs who voted against the Government. We can’t be sure about the 33 absent Tories but The Visitor should soon tell us whether David has maintained his point of view from 12 months ago. We may even find out his views if he decides to publish a booklet. The title could be ‘David Morris Reporting Back Autumn 2013’.

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P.S. It is 11.30pm on Sunday 1st September and I have just read an article on David's website. He tells us that he has been on national radio in Cyprus and said “I implore the (Syrian) regime to sit down and talk.” It does not bode well for peace when the person who asks for talks has already called one side evil. Peacemakers have to keep their prejudice to themselves.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Even Mr Micawber knew that

Anyone who runs a home knows the difference between income and expenditure (the deficit) and money that is owed (the debt). Earlier this year David Cameron must have made a trivial mistake, as it looked like he didn't know the difference, unless of course he doesn't look after the family budget and he doesn't know the difference. Well last Wednesday’s Independent told us that the national deficit has risen slightly according to the Office for National Statistics.

I don’t know if you are like me and can’t think in trillions (I haven’t bought a trillion of anything for ages) so it is much easier to relate deficit and debt to a single household. Let’s choose a household with two parents and two children, and for simplicity I am going to divide the national debt and the national deficit by the UK population of 63.7 million.

The ONS reported that the deficit in 2012/13 was £116.5 billion, which is on the way down but this means that the deficit is still equal to £1,829 for every man, woman and child.  For my 'family' this means there is a deficit, a yearly difference between income and expenditure of £7,315. As for the family’s debt, well the Government's debt is £1.39 trillion which means that their debt is nearly £22,000 each making a total of around £88,000.

So you have a debt of £88 000 and each year you need nearly another £7,500 just to break even. How easy is it to earn an extra £7,500 per year? I think one of the parents needs an extra job.

Now you can begin to think about how to deal with the national debt and national deficit. This family must not spend on anything that does not relate to savings unless it relates to a possible increase in income. If it means a better paid job then it may be alright to buy a car but this family have to make significant cuts. It is not time to think about increasing expenditure unless it directly relates to an increased income. Even Mr Micawber knew that.

This family may even find lots of social activity which may not be as expensive as their current lifestyle. They may take Jamie Oliver’s advice and stop buying ready meals and eat in a more healthy way. It may mean that the family gun is sold (Trident) and they now rely on the police for their safety (the UN).  What’s the point of a gun when you can’t use it anyway? The family may still be thinking about spending on education but it has to think seriously about whether their training will add to their prospects for better employment.

Money can and should still be spent by the nation but the family and the nation have to think twice before spending anything.

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Sunday, 25 August 2013

To Change or Not to Change: That is the Question

One question on yesterday's Any Questions concerned education and one of the panellists gave the view that teachers were fed up of Government interference. What the education system really needed was a period without change and teachers could assess how they and their pupils were doing. This was loudly applauded. Another panellist took the opposite view. If something was going wrong within the education system then it is the duty of the government to step in and correct it. This view was applauded too.

If something is wrong with the education system then maybe it is the Government's duty to step in and correct it. However, the National Curriculum was introduced in 1988 and my understanding is that the government has been regularly tinkering with it ever since. If 25 years of stepping in and correcting hasn't solved the problem, then why should we expect more of the same to help? And there is a problem - see my last blog in which I described how a top grade in an English GCSE does not give any indication of that pupil's grammatical ability.

If the question is how do I measure a pupil's command of English grammar then I cannot look at GCSE results. If any government wants to get this question answered then it will have to step in and I am sure that teachers would welcome government involvement if they were listening to what the teachers wanted, but they don't want government interference. It would be really nice if teachers could be left alone as we have a situation in which there is tremendous pressure on our teachers to get results regardless of whether it does the pupil any good (in this case regardless of whether a pupil has a good command of English grammar).

We have a system in which tremendous effort goes into helping those pupils who have a chance to improve school statistics. Well done to your child if they fall into this category but it is not so good if they don't. Schools want to improve their statistics and if that means putting a lot of effort into a small group, to the detriment of the rest, then they will do it. Schools need to climb their league table. We have a school in Lancaster that is at risk of closing, partly because of their league position and just maybe they haven't played the game correctly. Whether we like it or not we have a 'dog eat dog' educational system in which some important matters have been tossed aside for the sake of conformity.

It doesn’t sound like the creation of greater division caused by the creation of academies would be the answer. However if we take the Wikipedia definition then 'Academies, while publicly funded, have a significant degree of autonomy in deviating from the National Curriculum.'  If that's seen as a good thing, then surely the solution isn't to create more academies. Rather, why not just give every school more autonomy? Then they can all benefit.

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