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. 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.

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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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