Friday, 31 May 2013

What does an MP have to do to lose their job?

In 2007 David Cameron sacked Patrick Mercer "after making allegedly racist comments".  However David Cameron was in no doubt that Mr Mercer's comments were racist. Well Mr Mercer has again made the news and this time has quit the Tory whip. We should discover the reasons in the near future when Panorama is next on our screens.

So Mr Mercer made racist comments and lost his job as a minister but not as an MP. This time it looks like parliamentary rules have been broken. So how does a racist Tory MP who breaks parliamentary rules keep his job? Wouldn't the vast majority of people who don't work at Westminster lose their jobs? This time something has gone terribly wrong. Mr Mercer is no longer a Tory and has resigned the whip in order "to save my party embarrassment" but again he has held on to his job as an MP. How does he manage to keep going when others would be sacked?

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A&E Pressure

Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary has been in Leighton Hospital yesterday as he is concerned about the care that is being offered by A&Es. He was fairly measured in his remarks when I saw him on the regional Granada news and he mentioned the ageing population as a cause of the pressure which was not the fault of any government. We also heard from Liverpool, where the A&E was forced to close over the bank holiday weekend, and that there had been an unprecedented 8% increase in demand for their services. We also learned that many A&Es were at tipping point.

Andy didn't really speak like the shadow health secretary. He hadn't criticised the government and to his credit he sounded like he was just looking for answers. Then I looked on the internet. Andy had 'warned that A&E departments are under increasing pressure, with the situation deteriorating "significantly on this Government's watch" '. Why should that be? Why was he trying to score political points on demographics that had been in place for years. Well he could have been criticising the government for not dealing with this situation over the years but he would have to include Labour governments if he did this and it is up to local NHS trusts how they organise their services. Is he saying the government should intervene? Well he didn't say that but is this what he wants?

What is the single most important reason for greater pressure on A&Es? It has to be the Labour Government's decision in 2004 to remove responsibility from GPs for their out of hours service. If the public can only rely on their GP during surgery hours then more will turn to A&E even if this is not the most appropriate course of treatment.

It used to be the case that GPs would look after their patients all the time and even if an A&E was needed then the GP would send the patient there. Then with Labour's blessing, some A&Es became minor injuries units. This may have saved money but the public is not sure what is minor and what is major. They also don't know the opening and closing times of the minor injuries units. Why should a patient take a risk and go to the wrong place when they could go straight to A&E?

One factor that I haven't mentioned is the amalgamation of neighbouring A&Es. I did not read that these units were at tipping point and this was not mentioned in the North West reports on television. How could they be? They have been recently revised in order to provide the best service. Maybe some of these units in other parts of the country have felt the pressure as Andy says "the facts on the ground are changing fast and call into question the wisdom and safety of closing so many A&Es across England." It' a pity he couldn't mention any in Granada land.

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Friday, 24 May 2013

Wrestling is fake, and so is "Hard-working Brit"

This is my fifth blog entry on the "hard working Brit" and I'll make it my last but I really could write a blog for each of the 27 paragraphs. The author tells us he isn't racist. Why does he feel the need to tell us this? Why does he think that all the rich (who is rich?) "avoid paying proper taxes"? Why does he believe that English should be the only language used in England? Are there no circumstances in which another language should be used? How does he feel about foreign travel? I presume he would not venture to a non-English speaking country. How does he feel about letting someone die because he isn't willing to listen to them in a foreign language?

I will copy out one last paragraph. "I know wrestling is fake and I don't waste my time watching or arguing about it. I believe if you don't like the way things are here, go back to where you came from and change your own country!" At least he knows wresting is fake, but does that discernment extend to other issues? Apparently not as the whole Facebook status has been plagiarised as I wrote in my recent blog "Hard-Working Brit is US Import". Could he be more specific about the definition of an immigrant so we all know where we stand? If a recent immigrant sees something wrong should he or she say nothing or live with an injustice? How is immigrant defined? Do I count as an immigrant if I have second or third of fourth generation relatives who were not born in this country? Where would I go back to?

In summary, I can't find anything that I agree with in the Facebook comment that originated in the US and now looks like it is British. It says nothing but gets people to like it and agree with it. It reminds me of the episode of the Simpsons in which Marge Simpson addresses a large audience and can't get her views across to her audience until she starts talking nonsense and then she gets loud applause.

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Who is a Capitalist? Who is Smart? Who is a Minority?

Following on from the last blog, the next paragraph from the Facebook commentator reads "I think owning a home doesn't make you a capitalist; it makes you a smart Brit. I think being a minority does not make you noble or victimized, and does not entitle you to anything. Get over it. Join in with the majority!"

Well the term capitalist is often a derogatory term for a rich person but it also means a supporter of capitalism, the economic system to which we all belong, so owning a home does make you a capitalist. I am not sure what the author means by smart. Some people go through their life paying rent and spend as much as they earn which may include a holiday or two each year. Others put all their money into a mortgage and don't have the holidays and then find the money from their house pays for their place in a care home in their old age. At the same time those with no savings get it free. Who is a capitalist? Who is smart? I think the debate could go on and on.

What does the second sentence mean? Remember that Sally Bercow lost her libel case today after tweeting "Why is Lord McAlpine trending. *innocent face*." She had linked Lord McAlpine to sex abuse claims and was found guilty of libel. So what does this author mean when he writes that "being a minority does not make you noble or victimized, and does not entitle you to anything"? Have some people claimed to be victims and claimed something to which they were not entitled? We have no details from him but if your mind has been directed to a particular section of society and there are people in that section who don't feel they are victims and haven't claimed anything to which they weren't entitled then this claim is defamatory. Do you still want to agree with it?

Why should anyone be told to join a majority for any reason? Do you want to be told to join a majority whatever that means? Which groups does this allow me to join? I can't think what the author means. Would you like to make a guess? You may have come up with an answer but if Sally Bercow can be found guilty then maybe this author could be guilty too. That may be why he didn't mention any particular minority group.

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Why should we pay taxes?

Please see the previous two blog entries for the context of this one but here is the next sentence in a Facebook status update. "I believe the money I make belongs to me and not to some governmental functionary, to share with others who don't work!" That's a good idea if you don't believe in a social context for government. If you don't believe that the state should educate its citizens then it's fine. If you don't want the police or the armed services then it's fine too. If you don't want roads then it's fine.

Is it really controversial if I say we should house the poor? The big debate recently has been whether those on benefit should receive slightly less benefit if they live in a larger house in the social sector. Now, according to this fictitious author the debate is whether we should have any social sector. Want to abolish social workers too? Then abolish taxes.

If you don't want to pay for democracy then we can get rid of taxes. Of course we can't send any aid overseas if we don't pay taxes but that shouldn't bother this particular author. If you don't want your rubbish collected or streets cleaned then support the abolition of taxes. Law and order would have to be privatised. Buy your own security and you're alright as we can abolish the police service.

 I really haven't spent long thinking about why we should pay taxes. I am sure that there are many other reasons to pay tax but others take the opposite view. They need to give a little more thought as to what they want to abolish.

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Setting The Scene

Earlier today I wrote about a 'hard working Brit' who is posting messages on Facebook. A quick search tells us that the Facebook message has been attributed to Nigel Farage but it isn't him. Whoever is pretending to be the author is not telling the truth so how can we believe anything they say?

His (if it is a man) first paragraph sets the scene. The supposed author is not just hard working, and works long hours to earn a living, but is also the Tory Party's Worst Nightmare. It could be Nigel Farage but we know that it isn't. He also says he is a "White, Tax-Paying, God fearing English man" so there are good grounds to support his views. Unfortunately we already know that he is a liar as the whole article is plagiarised. There is a very slight chance that his life is identical to the original author but even if it is he should have owned up to copying the whole article. On the other hand there may be nothing dishonourable in being unemployed and even atheists may have opinions that are worthy of consideration. So the setting of the scene actually means nothing. Let's press on.

His second paragraph reads "I believe in God and the freedom of religion, but I don't push it on others. I believe in British products and buy them whenever I can". This seems reasonable but what does it actually mean? If anyone has a complete belief in God then why don't they stand in the street reading from the Bible? Why don't they knock on doors telling others about the benefits of religion? It should be fairly obvious that if anyone has a true vision of God then every other part of life would play a secondary role. I don't think this plagiarist has a true understanding of belief in God. He should have said that he sort of believes in God but only enough to get other believers on his side. His faith is certainly not strong enough to try to persuade others of its validity.

As for the second sentence it is good to buy British but there are other considerations. If you have one pound left in your budget for the week should it be spent on the more expensive British product or should you give more food to your children? Has he thought that there are many products which are not produced in this country? Even if you had the time and energy to search for British products it must mean that he buys merchandise that have been processed in this country as we don't have the climate for a great deal of products. Even if there are great British inventors we still can't trust the product. Ask James Dyson for the answer. Do multinational companies count as British? We have to accept that Britain is part of the European and part of the world markets but this is obviously not a consideration here.

I haven't even started on the main content from this "hard working Brit".

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"Hard-working Brit" is US import

I received a message on Facebook today which was a status that had been shared by a friend. The message was from a 'hard working Brit' whose heroes are fellow Brits and is truly patriotic in every way. This Facebook post refers to British situations but I had a suspicion that it might be based on something American as it refers to "cops" rather than "police", for instance. So I did a quick Google search and found and this tells me that it started in America. "Nigel Farage did not write the article. The message is just the latest in a series of messages that attribute the words to various political leaders or celebrities in various parts of the world. A virtually identical Australian version is also circulating".

The Facebook version tells us that there are big problems with this country and the biggest problems are in the House of Commons. I would say the author but this would be wrong - the person who impersonates the author doesn't like "do gooders" and thinks the Union Jack should be allowed to be flown anywhere in the UK. He believes in God and concludes with "Made in BRITAIN & DAMN PROUD OF IT!!!!!" AMEN"

There is nothing wrong with being proud. Actually there is. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins so if the British commentator believes in God then he has to atone for his pride. In fact it was hard to find any sentence in a long tirade that did not require further explanation. The whole message was designed to leave the reader with a feeling that they could agree with everything that was written. It left me with a feeling of dismay that oversimplification of the message meant that errors arose, and I found it hard to agree with anything.

I'll start with the messages that I have already mentioned. How do we know that the 'British' author is "hard working"? Check out the quotes for self praise. Self praise is for losers and is no recommendation. Hardly a good start for anyone wishing to persuade their reader. It is good to have heroes and good to have heroes who are fellow Brits. The problem occurs when those heroes are exclusively British. Why should hero worship start and end with political borders unless the border was more important than any other characteristic? The opposite of the seven deadly sins are the seven virtues, none of which relate to political boundaries.  

There are significant problems with our democracy. There is no doubt that it can be improved but there are also a lot of positives and without any detail it is impossible to agree or disagree with this commentator. It's the same with his views on do gooders. There is nothing wrong with doing good. In fact it is good to do good. If the author wants to be specific and tell us when 'good' has turned to 'harm' then let's debate that but let's not change the meaning of good otherwise confusion will reign and people will not know the difference between harm and good.

What about the Union Jack? I think he is referring to the recent decision to stop flying the flag over Belfast City Hall but I don't know so let's create a scenario in which a school bully is in the playground pulls out a flag and uses it to bully a fellow pupil who has just arrived in the country because his mother is a heart surgeon who happens to have saved the life of the bully's father. Sounds far fetched but this is my scenario and if it is wrong to use the Union Jack in this sense then the whole argument as written in Facebook falls down. I don't know where to start with the belief in God assertion. There was no Great Britain when Jesus was around and so much of the Bible concerns breaking down barriers and caring for others.

This blog has hardly touched the content of the Facebook message, which sets out to be a truly patriotic tirade but applies to Australians Americans and anyone else you care to mention. Every point it makes is open to discussion, interpretation or just wrong.  Watch this space.

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Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Norman Tebbit: Incestuous lesbian queen?

Norman Tebbit has added his voice to the split within the Tory Party. It's not Europe that has split the Tories this time but same-sex marriage. Norman feels that a discussion of the possible effects on our royal line of succession is enough to carry the argument and cause the gay marriage bill to fail.

His first problem is that he is concerned about what might happen "if we have a queen who is a lesbian". However, the Royal Family have enough problems already with their heterosexual partnerships and as far as threats to sovereignty are concerned I think a lesbian queen comes far down the list.

Norman also has a problem because he thinks the bill relates to incest. "It would lift my worries about inheritance tax because maybe I'd be allowed to marry my son. Why not? Why shouldn't a mother marry her daughter? Why shouldn't two elderly sisters living together marry each other?" I'm not sure about Norman's logic but I haven't heard anyone supporting incest.

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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Dambusters: A smart raid?

If you had to set the rules by which you conduct a war then what would you include? You come across these rules in war films when an English POW is asked for information and with their stiff upper lip give only their name, rank and number. Should soldiers be killing civilians? Well the answer should be a no. Should attacks be carried out that harm civilians? Well it should be a no again but 'collateral damage' means that sometimes these things happen, they can't be helped and sometimes they are a necessary part of war.

There is a great emphasis on targeting of military targets but if civilians are killed or harmed in any way then it may be argued that this is what you have to put up with. However I am now letting you make up the rules. Have you decided that it is alright to harm civilians if they are not the main target? Would you allow civilians to become the main target?

Now think of the Dambusters raid on the dams in the Ruhr Valley in 1943. The target was water. You could argue that military operations need water so civilians were not the main target but I don't think you would get very far as everyone needs water and that means the dams were not military targets. You could argue that the raid brought a quicker end to the war so must be a good thing. You could argue that the raid was a much needed propaganda boost for the allies. You have now torn up your rule book.

Yesterday the BBC published an article by Dan Snow in which he wrote about the bouncing bombs as 'the ancestor of today's "smart bombs" ' but smart bombs are used to limit collateral damage. The Dambusters were not aiming to minimise collateral damage but to cause it. Hundreds of civilians and POWs were killed by the flood waters. 25 bridges were destroyed. The power supply and agriculture were affected. Dan was referring to the bouncing bombs themselves when he called them 'smart' but the real destructive weapon was the water and this was certainly not selective in its target.

Dan writes that 'the skill and bravery of the pilots who flew at night, at 100ft (30m) or less over enemy territory is breathtaking'. Yes it was, but how would we view the skill and bravery of the Luftwaffe pilots if our dams had been breached? In 1977 the Geneva Conventions were amended to prohibit attacks on dams "if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces from the works or installations and consequent severe losses among the civilian population". This amendment was directly inspired by the Dambusters raid. We can't apply 1977 laws to 1943, but back then, even more so than today, I think the belief was widespread that targeting civilians was what the "bad guys" did, and soldiers should only be fighting other soldiers. So, was the Dambusters raid a 'smart' raid? What do you think?

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Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The camera can lie

Some say that history is written by the victors and there is a strong case that this is correct. There is an even stronger case that history is written by the historians and among the historians I include those who take photographs, not just those who do the reporting.

When the miners were on strike in the 1970s we saw clashes between the police and those on strike and in this case history may well have been written by those with a camera. Well I was recently talking to a retired police officer who told me that he was part of those clashes but they were artificially created for the cameras. In fact the police and strikers were getting on well, sharing food and drink and talking in a friendly way, but when cameras turned up then a clash was stage-managed. There is also a famous photograph of a spontaneous kiss in front of the Town Hall in Paris by Robert Doisneau. It wasn't spontaneous at all. It was posed. The camera can lie.

Yesterday I was talking to a Liberal Democrat member who was at the election count on May 3rd. He told me that he saw a photographer who was waiting at a distance to take his photo and was disappointed that his photo had been taken in the moment that he scratched his head. He had been aware of the photographer and wanted his photo taken to be a good one. The photograph highlighted concern. If the photographer waited long enough he may have been able to take a photo of a yawn or a smile. The photo could have been a reflection of any emotion that you care to mention and then history is written in the way that the photographer wishes. At least when a photographer asks for the photo then the person knows what is happening.

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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A Monument to Council Waste

I am still receiving replies from the council from the questions that were asked of me in the election campaign. Today I read about the council's policy on 20mph areas. It was interesting to read that the 'the current policy is not to include short cul-de-sacs due to the difficulty of reaching a high speed on a short stretch of road' as I had asked specifically about two very narrow and very short cul-de-sacs. However in both these cases the council had overturned its own policy.

My favourite quote of the campaign was from one local resident who told me "I defy Sebastian Vettel to get up to 20mph". He is right. It can't be done.

I thanked the council officer for replying to  my question and wrote 'It's a pity that this policy was overturned in these two cases as local residents will see the signs on a daily basis as a monument to council waste'.

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Cameron eats fruitcake

Much of the recent debate on an EU exit strikes at the heart of the Ukip agenda and Lord Lawson has  just switched sides and wants to leave. Ukip are not just concerned with this exit although many may have voted for them on this issue alone. David Cameron  may well have decided  that silence was the best policy following his comment in November last year that Ukip were a bunch of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists". This week he had to eat his words but really he shouldn’t have  attacked their politicians as inadvertently he was criticising the people who vote for the party. He should have criticised policy.

I am concerned by UKIP’s policies in general. There must be some policies that I agree with (and there are) because UKIP buys them off the populist shelves. However I’ll give one example as to why this is not always a good idea. The residents of California were asked about their priorities for health care and they thought that reconstructive cosmetic surgery was more important than hip replacements.   

Taxation is another area that causes me concern. UKIP hasn’t completely sorted out their tax proposals but they do want a flat rate which is bound to help the rich. They do want a slightly higher tax threshold than that which is proposed by the Liberal Democrats but if you want to help the rich then a flat rate would do it. If you do help the rich then the poor get less. Moreover the trouble with picking and choosing populist policies is that they are not costed. I am always pleased to read at each election that the Liberal Democrat manifesto is costed as well as verified independently.

Nigel Farage wants an “amicable divorce” from Europe. I am sure that the divorce settlement would not be good for Britain. Why should the rest of Europe allow it to be? We can’t compare ourselves with much richer nations like Norway and a divorce would convince multinational companies to side with the rest of Europe.

Ukip has attracted a great deal of criticism from within its own party. In 1993 the first leader, Alan Sked said that the party had become “extraordinarily right wing”. You can Google his many criticisms.  UKIP has banned BNP members and describes itself as a non-racist party but why would it need to explicitly make these claims unless it already attracted such people? BNP members in Scotland broke away to join the British Freedom Party and they were invited to join UKIP by Christopher Monckton, UKIP’s leader in Scotland. There are phrases like “Multiculturalism has split our society” which appear in the UKIP manifesto and this causes me great concern. UKIP’s “Pocket Guide to Immigration” promised to “end support for multiculturalism and promote one, common British culture”. I am sure that this moves us in a difficult and dangerous direction.

UKIP has had more than its fair share of members with extreme views but it is also worth taking a look at the friends that UKIP keeps. It is part of the group called Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD). This includes Italy’s Lega Nord and other far right parties. Nigel Farage has even felt the need to suggest withdrawing from the EFD but hasn’t despite further affirmations of extreme views, and one UKIP MEP was expelled for refusing to take part in the EFD.

We need Europe for many reasons and when it comes to issues like the environment and immigration there are huge differences between Liberal Democrats and UKIP. However the Liberal Democrats and UKIP both support voting reforms. It’s always nice to finish a blog on a positive note, but I won't. If Nigel Farage is willing to do a pre-election deal with the Conservatives, as long as David Cameron is not leading them, then this shows contempt for the electorate. Ukip has just gained 25% of the vote and they have taken votes from Labour too. It now looks like they are saying they are just the same as anti-EU Tories. You don't treat voters like that.

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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Local is Beautiful

It just doesn't make sense to produce anything that could be made in the rest of the world, and then transport it around the world. New Zealand may be a great place for lambs but how long does it take to get here and how much does it cost to transport it? I know that I have written about Schumacher's 'Small is Beautiful' before, but I want to go back to one point that he made. 'Modern industry seems to be inefficient to a degree that surpasses one's ordinary powers of imagination. Its inefficiency therefore remains unnoticed'.

Why should we get clothes from India when we can produce them here? The answer is also to be found in his book. 'The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success'. It doesn't matter whether we are talking about lamb or clothes or any other form of trade (and mainly Schumacher writes about energy) the principle is the same. Don't waste the world's resources and if you send things around the world then that's what you are doing.

Lord Lawson wants to leave the EU. "Too much of British business and industry feels... secure in the warm embrace of the European single market and is failing to recognise that today's great export opportunities lie in the developing world, particularly in Asia". So is there some great panacea that allows companies to trade with Asia in a much easier way if they were not members of the EU? In this case all EU countries would be searching for it, but there isn't and they aren't.

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Thursday, 2 May 2013

Does William Hague have nothing better to do?

I have waited till 10pm to publish this blog as the polls are now closed for the county council elections and I did not wish to give any publicity to the Tory effort that has gone into this election. However it is remarkable that William Hague has been phoning constituents in Morecambe South. At least that's what David Morris, my M.P. wrote in his tweet on the 1st May. I don't know if our foreign secretary and first secretary of state phoned one or two people in Morecambe South or whether he spent a few hours working on the phones trying to persuade Lancashire voters with his broad Yorkshire accent.

Regardless of the time that William spent helping out the Tories in Morecambe South, does he really have nothing better to do? Should he not be spending time sorting out Somalia or Syria or North Korea? He is currently, according to his twitter feed, hard at work on preparations for a conference on Somalia, and there is a "Huge amount at stake in #Somalia. Future of that country, stability of region and our own national security against terrorism". This is true, the conference on Somalia is hugely important, and William Hague clearly will have a big part to play in decisions that will profoundly affect its future. Still, he must have heard that Morecambe South has an excellent Liberal Democrat candidate and I can understand him putting world events to one side and concentrating on my area of Morecambe.

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