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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Saturday, 24 August 2013

English GCSE: What's it worth?

Luisa Zissman, star of The Apprentice was on Breakfast TV this morning because she has 'ditched the apostrophe'.  She asked on Twitter "Is it Bakers Toolkit or Baker's Toolkit with an apostrophe?", ignored the correct answer and decided to run with the former because she liked the look of it.

The apostrophe is important because it helps us communicate. However I don't mind Waterstones or Boots losing their apostrophe. That's up to them and if it helps their marketing then I can see why they do it. However the important moment in the interview for me was when Luisa told us that she had an A grade in an English GCSE but didn't know how to use an apostrophe.

If the grades in an English qualification do not tell us how good that person is in using the English language then we need a new method of testing. Employers want to know that their prospective employees can work for them and writing is often a significant part of that work. It is a building block for good communication. I don't think employers just want someone who can tell you about a Shakespearean character (though that can be important too, as being well-read can indicate that they are well-rounded generally). They want somebody who can get it right.

There was another interesting interview on Breakfast TV with a young man who could memorise the order of a pack of cards and we were told that memory techniques could be used to help children at school. The trouble is that there will be children who are taught memory tricks. I don't think you will find this on the school syllabus but those who have access to this kind of trick will be using them and what happens is that employers will choose applicants who not only don't know their grammar but also have forgotten their Shakespeare - because it was a memory trick.

We need a qualification that tells us that someone is good at English and it sounds like a GCSE in English doesn't fit that bill.

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Friday, 23 August 2013

David Morris: Putting the um into Autumn

I have prepared a few more blogs which are all based on the 'David Morris Reporting Back Autumn 2012' booklet. Then I realised that 2012 may not by a typo (although there are definite typos within it) as all the articles may have been written a year ago. It was just strange that I hadn't seen this booklet before, and now suddenly a stack of them were in my local shop on the newspaper shelves. It was good to get some feedback from my MP even if it may be a year out of date, but what had happened to the ‘delivered’ part of ‘delivered free at no cost to the taxpayer’?  Did you receive this booklet last year or this year? Let me know if you did.

This may not be as topical as I first thought, but still there was much with which I could disagree and much inspiration for writing blogs, and some of the things in the booklet are also mentioned on David's website, and very much in need of refutation still. So I may yet publish some of my prepared blogs, with just minor modifications. Watch this space.

So if 2012 is not a typo how did they get on the shelves and how do they look so new? My guess is that the shopkeeper isn't David Morris' number one fan so when they saw the headline on The (Morecambe) Visitor 'Our MP claims second highest expenses in UK' they just had to put out the well-stored booklets that had the headline 'DAVID MORRIS DELIVERING CHANGE'.

It sounds like a joke but what does David Morris do with £76,000 in expenses? Delivers change.

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

David Morris: Putting the Wind into Wind Farms

In the last politics blog I told you that David Morris, the MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale was reporting back with an expensive booklet. He was also rich enough to have it delivered to his constituency and leave extra copies in local shops. The phrase money to burn comes to mind. 

Well blogs cost nothing so I am happy to delve deeper into David’s reports. There are plenty of snippets of information. Did you know that ‘David has helped shape Government policy to ensure WIND FARMS ARE NOT BUILT ON SHORE’? I really don’t know what this means. I had thought that David Cameron was trying to tell us that his party were becoming more environmentally friendly. Is the Tory Party actually saying they don’t want renewable wind energy except the more expensive kind in the sea? 

Even stranger, in this week’s Morecambe Visitor is an article about a dairy farmer who has been given planning permission for wind turbines in Nether Kellet. Somebody should tell David that wind farms are being built onshore, and according to the Government's own website 'The UK has some of the best wind resources in Europe and onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective large-scale renewable energy technologies. We are committed to using onshore wind as part of the UK’s energy mix'.

I like the quote in the newspaper ‘It was explained that local and national planning policies encouraged development of schemes which would create renewable energy, so long as their impacts were acceptable’. Somebody should explain this to David Morris before he reports back again. Perhaps he didn't mean what he wrote. Perhaps he meant the complete opposite of that. He may have also meant to give his booklet the title Autumn 2013 rather than 2012. 

The Tory party used to have a torch as their emblem but in 2006 they changed it to a tree to show how friendly they were to the environment. Maybe it's time to go back to the torch.

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David Morris: Putting the Expense into Expenses

I went down to my local shop today and bought the local newspaper, The (Morecambe) Visitor and I also picked up a free booklet with the title ‘David Morris Reporting Back, Autumn 2012’. I appreciate it when an MP lets you know what they are doing, particularly in their holidays but I think he meant 2013 and if he can get the year wrong then what else is possible?
The front page of his booklet told me that it was ‘delivered free at no cost to the taxpayer’. This seemed a little strange as it hadn’t been delivered. I had just picked it up off the newspaper rack. I can only guess that I will also receive another copy through my door and this is a shame because it looks like an expensive publication. It will also be expensive to deliver, either that or the local Tories have found many more volunteers to distribute it throughout the constituency. I suspect that 2012 is a typo even so they will be hard pushed to deliver the booklet even if they have more than three months to deliver it.
The Visitor’s headline was ‘Our MP claims the second highest expenses claim in the UK'  and on page three we get a full breakdown of his expenses. I think it is fair to say that the taxpayer has not paid for the booklet but what have we paid for?
A total of £22,982 was spent on travel. Just that one figure, on its own, is more than most people working in Morecambe will earn in a year.   It's about £63 per day, for each and every one of the 365 days in a year, or £442 per week. But David says "I always travel on the cheapest return ticket possible.".  Off-peak return tickets from Morecambe to London can be had for £85.70 according to National Rail, and a 12-month season ticket allowing unlimited travel between Morecambe and any London station would cost £16,140 according to Northern Rail.
I won't go into detail on the other figures. It should suffice to say that the office costs were even higher than the transportation costs, and the accommodation costs were highest of all.
David defends the amount of his expenses by saying that  ‘I am just trying to do the best job I possibly can’ and ‘My expenses are only paid for legitimate items which relate to undertaking my job as the Member of Parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale’. This really isn’t good enough. Other MPs are presumably also doing their best, and claiming only for legitimate items, and every single one of them manages to do it at less cost, with the exception of the MP for Orkney and Shetland, a region which is slightly harder to get to than Morecambe.

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Sunday, 18 August 2013

EU Hit or Myth?

I was part of a Liberal Democrat team yesterday which was armed with a questionnaire about the EU. We were in Market Square in Lancaster to dispel the myths that abound which are cultivated by some parts of our media. What percentage of UK laws is dictated by Europe? How much of our exports go to the EU? How many are employed by the EU and how much does the EU spend? The final question asked about putting an order to the largest markets in the world.

As expected, most thought that the EU itself employed too many, spent too much and dictated too many laws. There has been a lot in the news about China's emerging market but it is still emerging so China was often too high in the public's estimated league table. Many did not know the size of the EU's GDP The main point was that the EU has the largest GDP in the world. It was good to point out that the EU spending is less than most people think, dictates fewer laws than most people think, and  employs less staff than Lancashire County Council.  

These results did not surprise me. What did surprise me was that in a short space of time I had spoken with a group from Spain and someone from Austria, France and Scotland. Well the Scottish connection may not be too surprising but this, on its own is an indicator of the importance of the EU to our economy.

One highlight for me was that the Scottish man came up to us and was telling us how wrong we were to support the EU. However he did take part in the questionnaire and, perhaps not surprisingly, he went for the answers that were wrong in the extreme. He had no idea of the actual answers but was most vociferous about putting his case. I wonder if this is generally what happens.

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Do you agree with the Lib Dems?

I recently posted a link on my Facebook page to a booklet which explains the Liberal Democrat achievements in government. You can find the link here

I made this comment on the booklet...

Take a look at the whole document but if you don't have time then these are the significant phrases for me.

The Tories won't deliver a fairer society.

Labour can't deliver a stronger economy.

For years our opponents would tell people that we weren't ready for government. Not any more.

Within a few minutes I received a comment from a Labour councillor and she said "you would be a great local Councillor but as a Independent". I hope she wasn't thinking "Morecambe Bay Independent". They are a political party that claims not to like political parties. I've never been able to make sense of them, and their main claim to fame is an aptitude for bickering and infighting on an epic scale. A genuine independent can do a lot of good, but it's not easy. To really achieve anything in politics you need some sort of support machine, which is hard for an independent to build as people need to know what you stand for. Just saying you're an "independent" isn't saying much, because there are many kinds of independent, some good and some not so good. So independence can be more a hindrance than a help.

Besides, I want to be part of a bigger picture. The document I link to can say "not any more" because Liberal Democrats aren't just ready for government. They are in government. No independent can say that. In addition, I like being a Liberal Democrat. I like most of the existing policies, I like that they are making a difference on a national level, and I like that I can play a part in formulating or changing any policy that I think might still need some work. I like the way that Liberal Democrats formulate policy at conference. Ask Walter Wolfgang if you want to know how Labour deals with differing views at their conference

She also said "I am talking about you as a caring hard working man , how many doors did you knock on for County Council and i bet if you would of been Independent you would of won. I know people that really liked you but because of your party they would not vote for you, .. change to independent i would work well with you on council."

The endorsement is appreciated, but this is someone who has deleted my comments on her Facebook page. I don't know how well we could work together without an atmosphere of openness. I did say that I believe in free speech and I didn't want to delete her messages, but maybe I should have also mentioned that Liberal Democrats believe in free speech. I'm a liberal Democrat because I agree with the Liberal Democrats on this, and on fairness and equality and on the need to make a positive difference, and on countless other things. Follow the link I gave. See if you don't agree too.

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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Pavements are for people

I was visiting relatives in east Lancashire today and I had a look at this week's Accrington Observer. The first letter is about parking on the pavement and the author is not in favour. He mentions the possibility of arrest if a blind person decided to walk down the centre of the road with their guide dog and I heard similar stories when I was knocking on doors in the first few months of the year.

I knocked on nearly two thousand doors and while it may not sound very many, around a dozen people brought up the issue of parking on the pavement. My feelings at the time were that drivers were breaking the law but this particular law was not enforced because the offence is widespread. If nobody parked on the pavement it may mean some drivers having to walk considerable distances to get to their house.

My opinion is now strongly on the side of those who want the law upholding. A blind person and their dog may be able to get around a parked vehicle but they shouldn't have to. I was told about one blind person who was injured because of a parked car. I was also told by one resident that their services were provided under their grass verge and cars had caused damage.

Pavements are for people and roads are for vehicles. If this is a problem then it may be possible to decrease the size of the pavement but breaking the law is not the answer. This is an issue that is important to many and it is surprising that their is no initiative to do anything about it either in Morecambe or in east Lancshire.

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Thursday, 1 August 2013

Lord Howell, Confused and Ignorant?

I noticed this article about Tory peer Lord Howell and how he confused the North East with the North West. It is easily done and he did apologise for any offence caused. So far so good, but I don't think the population of the North West or East will be upset about any error which is simply a slip of the tongue. I am sure that Lord Howell knows the difference between west and east and I am guessing that he has visited both parts of the country. It's no big deal that he made a simple mistake and even an apology may be over the top.

Unfortunately he also said "The general story is right - that we want the derricks for fracking to be far away from residences in unloved places that are not environmentally sensitive...It's odd that they've decided to do this in sensitive places down in Sussex." Tell me which places are unloved in the north and which are not environmentally sensitive. There aren't that many cobbles in the road and smog ended years ago.

If Lord Howell really thinks that "the drilling going on off the Lancashire coast" is in "desolate" areas then maybe he has never visited the north. He notes that "It's odd that they've decided to do this in sensitive places down in Sussex." Well I would like to compare the coastal view from where I live in Morecambe which happens to be in the north west, with any coastal view in Sussex. I am including two photos taken from Morecambe for those who don't know Morecambe Bay. Maybe there should be a photo competition - which coast has the best view? My guess is that from the Sussex coast you see water and a shipping lane.

Ian Roberts from the anti-fracking group Resident Action On Fylde Fracking described Lord Howell as "ignorant". He is ignorant of the beauty of the north west (and probably the north east too) and has no idea about the love that the residents of Lancashire have for their county.

There is a more recent article that tells us Lord Howell is going to visit the "desolate" North East. Wait a minute - that was a simple slip of the tongue and he wasn't thinking about the North East at all. Lord Howell was actually talking about "the drilling going on off the Lancashire coast". He is now going on a fact finding mission to a place that happens to be a slip of the tongue. Maybe his next slip of the tongue will be Hawaii or the Seychelles. You can't make this up.

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