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.

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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.

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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.

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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'.

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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.

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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.

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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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