Thursday, 31 January 2013

A Mandate from the Masses

There is a Monty Python sketch that starts 'I think all right-thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired'. There are a few variations on the internet but this is the closest to the one I remember learning as a teenager. It showed me the power that words have to persuade. It also highlighted how some politicians can talk and talk and say nothing.

I was reminded of this sketch yesterday because the Electoral Commission rejected the SNP's wording for the question on the referendum for Scottish independence. SNP ministers wanted to ask "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" rather than the wording which will be used, "Should Scotland be an independent country?"With whom should the electorate agree?

Do the SNP ministers want voters to agree with right-thinking people? Well I'm sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up with being told about agreeing with the SNP on referenda. I'm certainly not, and I'm sick and tired of being told that I am.

Change the world

P.S. The title of the blog comes from a Michael Palin line in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 'Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony'.

Monday, 28 January 2013

HS2 or H2S?

H2S, hydrogen sulphide, stinks as opposed to HS2, the high speed rail scheme, which may not stink  depending on your view. Arguments for the scheme include the need for strong infrastructure to support a strong economy in which wealth will spread to the north. There will be environmental benefits because travellers will use the train rather than take a plane. On the other hand there will be an impact on the environment and on local communities as building takes place and there may be cheaper and better alternatives.

I am writing this blog because of a quote from a supporter of HS2, Pete Waterman "This makes London and Manchester so close that you could commute every day." I have generally thought of one hour as my commuting limit. Anything more than an hour takes out a large part of the day and the shorter the journey then the better it is. So this would not be an option for me.

The saving in time that will be achieved  to get from Manchester to London will not be shaved, it will be almost cut in two from 2 hours 8 minutes to 1 hour 8 minutes and as technological achievement goes this is significant. On the other hand this is the best percentage improvement of all the stations involved. It may not be quite as enticing to travel from Edinburgh where commuting times will change from 4 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours 39 minutes.

Let's stay with Manchester. Is it really that important to cut the travelling time? It only takes a couple of hours anyway. Are people really going to commute? The sort of person involved would live in the leafy suburbs of Manchester and would probably not work near Euston. Even if you just add 30 minutes in Manchester and in London (a conservative estimate) we are still talking about more than four hours travelling per day. It is difficult to agree with Pete. Would you commute?

A high speed train, by definition, cannot stop many times. which means the main benefit goes to those who live close to those few stations. As Manchester Airport is on this small list then maybe this will be a significant boost for the airport which would be able to serve London. This lends support to the criticism that HS2 is London-centric.

If this scheme goes through then maybe the environmental benefits will not be great because at the very centre of this debate is whether we should be looking for unbridled economic growth. Does it really matter if it takes a little longer to get across our small country? There are some who think we have no option, we have to have it. These people have not read Schumacher's Small is Beautiful.

It is a route for the rich. It is not a route for commuters, even rich ones. What is the point of going to great expense to save an hour and then find that journeys within London take over an hour? I am sensing a bit of a stink with HS2.

Change the world

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Snow Joke

I had planned to travel to Manchester yesterday but I knew that snow would fall. I postponed my decision till the last moment when snow fell in Morecambe. If it snows here then it snows heavily elsewhere. The decision was the right one as Heavy snowfall left motorists stranded for hours in their cars on motorways in the north of England. 

The M6 motorway was particular bad near Wigan and vehicles were stationary If I had no choice and had to travel in this kind of weather then I would make sure that I was not running low on fuel, had a blanket and warm clothing in the car and a thermos flask. The advice from the police was to stay in the car so it is strange that our Conservative MP, David Morris said "It's a surreal scene to be had. We've even been having snowball fights on the M6." The trouble is that a similar risk assessment for a school would have closed it. We don't want injury and illness caused by bad advice. I heard of one person who was stranded for seven hours. What about the risks of hypothermia and dehydration? What about those with existing medical conditions that would be exacerbated simply by a delay in their journey?

I should have thought that an MP would be more concerned with giving out good advice than commenting on surreal scenes. Moreover David Morris should have known that it was dangerous for people to get out of their cars, and it was irresponsible for him to appear to endorse such behaviour,  He may not have thrown any snowballs but his use of the collective pronoun means that he has some collective responsibility for those actions. In his position he must bear more of that collective responsibility.

David also said "It was such an anomaly .. it took everybody by surprise.  don't think the services really could have prepared for it." - which is just completely wrong, as it was well advertised in advance. Let's hope the information that the Morecambe MPs receives is better when it comes to voting in the House of Commons.

Change the world

How do you get the ball back?

Charlie Morgan is the Swansea ball boy who decided to go against his principles and hold on to the ball when Chelsea's Edin Hazard wanted it back

It is fairly obvious that ball boys should not keep hold of the ball and it is also fairly clear that ball boys should not be kicked. However Charlie has also been criticised by Pat Nevin who said "I'm very, very disappointed with how the ball boy acted. I say acted, he must have watched footballers the way he rolled around pretending to be more injured," My view is that Charlie could be on his way to a career in football as he knows how to get opposition players sent off.

Charlie did act. He appeared to be in a lot of pain, but if you have ever hurt your ribs then one thing you don't do is lift up your arm and gesticulate as your pain increases. Charlie missed that one as his expression was more concerned with criticising Hazard.

I hope that the authorities are lenient with Hazard who knew that he could not use his arms as that is a red card offence. The easiest way to get the ball loose was to toe poke it out. He didn't hurt the ball boy and got the ball back quickly. It would be nice to get some advice as to what footballers should do if ball boys refuse to give the ball back.

Change the world

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Cost of Wind Farms

I drove along the West Cumbrian coast last week and saw the wind farm which is close to Whitehaven. I was speaking to a local man who told me that each turbine cost £21 million and did not see any way that they could be efficient. I thought that this capital cost was quite high and turbines should be efficient because we have used renewable energies for centuries and our ancestors did make efficient use of the resource. If the turbines did cost £21 million each then at least the manufacturer would make a profit which would eventually work itself back into the general economy. He then told me they were made in Germany.

Today I saw an article about a wind farm that is to be built near me in Heysham  Heysham South Wind Farm The cost of three turbines will be £7.5 million and 'the wind farm would produce enough renewable energy for about 4,200 homes'. Now with some simple maths this means that each household pays less than £2000. According to my bills it would take me less than two years for these turbines to become cost effective. I know there are running costs but this gives me a much better idea as to whether renewable energy pays its way.

Some people don't like the look of the turbines (especially if they think there is no way they can be efficient) but the same has been said for any new innovation - we just get used to them. On the other hand I think they look great partly because they are using renewable energy. They can be noisy so we have to be careful where they go - but other forms of technology and nature itself all make noise. It isn't always windy and other sources of energy are required, but if I had to make a decision with these figures then I know how I would vote.

Change the world

Snow Closures

The snow has closed schools this week and I was listening to a phone-in on the radio in which it was felt that teachers should walk to their nearest school in order to keep them open. For me this is an excellent idea if the closure is purely because teachers can't get to school. If health and safety issues are involved then it may not be such a good idea.

There is always the thought that some pupils and staff may use bad weather as an excuse for a day off. However one argument put forward was that teachers use these days to prepare lessons and to do marking. If teachers are using this as an argument to avoid teaching at their nearest school then we have a serious problem, namely that teachers are under so much pressure that they need extra days for planning and marking. If this is the case then the implementation of these days should not depend on the vagaries of the weather.

Incredibly I also heard that those schools that remain open in adverse conditions have to count absences whereas schools that close have no absences. If this is true then it is a strong incentive to close!

Morecambe has escaped the worst of the weather as it often does. So compared to schools that have been affected then teachers will teach a few extra days in the year. This is hardly a way to run our schools.

Change the world

Saturday, 19 January 2013

A&E closures: an accident (and emergency) waiting to happen

In July last year I wrote about the closure of Burnley A&E. Politics for Novices Burnley A&E The NHS Confederation were telling us that more closures should follow, and now in the Lancaster Guardian we read that Lancaster's is threatened. We can't say we didn't see it coming. Shortly after writing the blog I received a phone call from a Mail on Sunday reporter who asked if I had experienced personal hardship because of an A&E closure. Well it won't be hard to find people like this if Lancaster's A&E closes.

Many will have experienced problems caused by closures. Nobody wants these closures. They don't want them in Burnley, Lancaster or anywhere else. I set out my reasons why I didn't want the closures back in July and they are still as valid, but the greater concern is that we are arguing against closure with people who aren't interested. Savings will be made so they think that it must be good. We are arguing with people who think it is 7 miles from the Blackburn to the Burnley hospital (see my blog from  2nd July) when it is more than 16. If their statistics are so wrong then what chance do we have with more complex information that seems to indicate that closure is the best way forward?

Change the world


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Labour know there's no money

There are reports of widespread cuts affecting local councils and it's looking likely that Manchester will close libraries and swimming pools. These are difficult times and it will be interesting to see how cuts are presented in the campaigning for the elections in May. I would emphasise the benefits of supporting education, and libraries are closely related to that. I would also prioritise health promotion and as far as the council is concerned this would mean sports facilities. Exactly the opposite of Manchester Council's view.

The Labour leader of Manchester City Council said "Manchester has again been one of the places hit the hardest by the government's financial settlement", but there was an acceptance in making cuts in that reasons were given to support those particular cuts. There were, apparently, not enough people using the libraries. To me this is a reason to promote and support them more. However it is useful to realise that the Labour council has accepted cuts and it is fairly clear that Government cuts followed the Labour years of profligacy. This was epitomised by the note left by former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne, who famously wrote to his successor that there was no money left.

Change the World.

Writes of Man

Students in the Isle of Man are protesting at the prospect of tuition fees.  One student is seen holding a placard that reads 'enroll or dole' - I am not sure if this misspelling helps their cause. It could be argued that this error demonstrates the need for better financing for their university education but it makes a stronger argument for grade retention i.e. holding students back a year as they do in the USA.

With the American spelling there is a slight possiblity that this particular student is trying to get into an American university instead of a UK one. Perhaps the Manx government has a scheme for placing students in US universities, or if it doesn't then maybe it should - after all, to them, both the US and the UK are abroad.

Change the world

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Change is permanent

HMV is going into administration. This will affect me, and with 239 stores it will affect most of the country but if we are to lose this store, and 4000 jobs and 90 years of history, then choice will be significantly reduced for those who use the local shops. That is progress as we have chosen to buy online, but, in turn, large stores have played their part in the closures of small independent companies.

When Scottish and Newcastle bought the Matthew Brown brewery in Blackburn there was strong local opposition. Asset stripping and closure were the fears which proved to be correct when the brewery closed in 1992. It didn't take long for Blackburn football fans to wear shirts carrying the McEwans lager logo.

I recently bought a Kindle from the local Waterstones and I am very happy with it. I now look forward to many years of never buying another book from this shop - the classics are free and if I do pay for a book then it is bought over the internet. I am sure that the people selling this type of technology realise the repercussions.

Do we like change? We used to like small shops and then we liked bigger shops and now we like to buy through the internet. It may be that HMV's outlook is considerably better than stores like Comet and Jessops, but how likely are you to find that rare item in HMV and what are the chances of finding it online? Change will continue so let's try to make it for the better. According to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, 'there is nothing permanent except change'.

Change the world (for the better)

Thursday, 10 January 2013


I recently watched the drama Restless on the BBC. It is an espionage thriller in which a double agent, as is their wont, sets up a colleague. Subterfuge goes on. Politically it's not that long ago since Nick Griffin was calling for BNP members to infiltrate the Tory party

As I left the polling station after voting at the 1987 election I was met by a film crew who asked me if I had changed my voting pattern since 1983. I knew that if I said yes and given them a rant about how bad the Tory government was then there was a chance I would be on TV. Like George Washington I couldn't tell a lie and no filming took place. However it doesn't take much planning to get someone to join a party as an act of subterfuge.

This morning when Nick Clegg faced insults from a radio caller they were all the more profound because they came from a former Liberal Democrat councillor who had just torn up his membership card. He was upset at the hard decisions that have to be made which were affecting the poorest. Nick answered well but it wasn't Nick but the caller who was making the headlines. I wonder where the former Liberal Democrat will turn to give his political support now. Publicly the caller is not supporting Labour. Michael Gambon played the double agent in Restless and he never admitted to supporting the Russians.

It was important for Nick to rebut the caller's claims but the telling point for me was that the caller said he 'first joined the party in 1973'. He didn't say that he has been a member since 1973. He didn't say how many times he had torn up his membership card and done his best to criticise the Liberal Democrats. Could there be an element of subterfuge?

Change the world

Nuisance or Scam?

I have received three automated phone calls today two of which were telling me that it is important for me to contact them about a refund. It could have been anything that I have done in the last ten years and who can remember all of their financial dealings in the last ten years? Of course I am far too experienced to push any buttons on my phone which may enable the caller to take money from me.

Then the automated caller tells me that I may have received this call in error - you bet - they know nothing about me and don't even get a real person to talk to me. So if it is their 'error' I may unsubscribe by pressing another number on my phone. This may seem a perfectly reasonable request to those who are more naive. To me it is a scam at worst and a nuisance at best.

Change the world


I have just found (11am on 11th Jan) and signed Mark Hunter's online petition which may be found at

Friday, 4 January 2013

Road Safety v Revenue

There are reports today that too many road signs lead to more accidents and we could save money by reducing the number of unnecessary signs. It stands to reason that added distractions will not help concentration so all that we need to know is which signs are important and which are a distraction. It is fairly easy to decide when two signs tell us the same thing. It is less obvious in other cases but advertising should be easy to place in the distraction category.

One of my favourite signs from a few years ago was one that asked me to drive carefully and told me the name of the town that I was entering. It had been hit by a vehicle. More recently I saw adverts on a roundabout, and anything new is a distraction. I managed to read one of the signs which told me that I could advertise on those signs and all I had to do was contact the county council. This must mean that road safety is important, but not as important as revenue.

It used to be illegal to advertise on the side of a motorway but mobile signs get round the law. I would not be surprised if we get video advertising on the side of the road in the near future. We criticise drivers who use the phone or do anything that distracts from their driving. On the other hand if we can make money out of it...

Change the world

Later that day I drove from Morecambe to Knutsford and back on the M6 and there were plenty of signs advertising all kinds of things. This was nothing compared to yesterday, the 5th when I drove to Cardiff. Near Birmingham there are illuminated large screen adverts that go into great detail about their products. Then there is a spectacular transition to a different advert.

I am sure that I only looked for as long as it was safe to look. I think this is the defence of people who are prosecuted for watching DVDs on their laptops whilst driving. If you had seen these adverts you may think they have a case.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Sensational News

It is hard to remember now but 2012 brought us the worst drought since 1976. It is easier to remember the rain and the floods. According to the Guardian, 'April and June were the wettest such months in a record stretching back to 1766 – the only instance of two record-breaking months in a single year'.

However we didn't have to face Hurricane Sandy which devastated the Caribbean and some US states. The Gulf Stream ensures that we don't have to face extremes of temperature. Our climate is definitely temperate. And my inspiration for the first blog of the year? The BBC's headline 'Crowds brave damp weather to see in 2013'. It seems that 'crowds across the UK have risked the damp weather'.

 If I had known this yesterday then I could have made a New Year's resolution to be brave and take risks in 2013. I didn't make this resolution but I am fairly sure that I will still go out in the rain this year. I didn't know how brave I was, or could it just be an editor's wish to sensationalise the news?

Change the world