Thursday, 27 November 2014

Andrew Mitchell and 'Plebs'

Andrew Mitchell probably called the police 'plebs'. This is according to Mr Justice Mitting.

It is a shame it has cost £2 million to find this out because I told you over a year ago.

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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

GP Appointments

I have to share this wonderful story that I heard two days ago and relates to my last blog entry on the NHS. Bear in mind that this story is third-hand but I bet it resonates with many.

A lady went to the GP surgery and asked for an appointment. She was told that the surgery only accepts telephone appointments and was asked if she had her mobile phone with her. She did. It was switched off because the signs told her to switch it off. She was advised to go outside to phone the surgery. She did and spoke to the receptionist who had given the advice.

This is a story that would make a good comedy sketch. I didn't hear what happened next but for any comedy sketch writers the conclusion could be that there were no appointments left for that day and she could be asked to phone back the following day.

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Tuesday, 11 November 2014

NHS: The best in the world?

I have had three conversations in three days that are all linked. Three days ago I was chatting about the NHS and the person with whom I was speaking agreed that it is not popular to criticise the NHS. It is seen as the best provider of health care in the world, looks after us from cradle to grave and is free at the point of access. My point was that the NHS is great if your experience is great but the opposite is also true, and I have heard and read about many bad examples of care.

Just yesterday I was speaking with a mother who was concerned about her daughter who had moved to another county. She had informed all the relevant authorities that she was moving and had even asked for evidence from some of them that they were aware of her change of address due to previous bad experiences. Needless to say things had gone wrong again. Her daughter has a chronic condition which is obvious to even the most casual observer. There is no doubt that treatment is necessary but she was told that there was a question of funding for her treatment.

The treatment is essential. Someone has to pay for it but she was now being told that there was a doubt over funding. Why had she even heard this comment? It had raised her stress levels on top of her medical condition. It also raised the stress levels of her mother, and this is from a service which has 'national' in its title.

My third conversation was earlier today and I was speaking with a doctor. I didn't know he was a doctor at the time but it came into the conversation because he was talking about someone who had been injured and gone to hospital. We also spoke about how maternity procedures had changed in twenty years. When my children were born it was common for mother and baby to stay in hospital six days. Now it is not even a day. This may be seen as a great improvement in efficiency and if this is true then it also makes you consider how inefficient things were not so long ago.

The conversation went on to consider the strengths of the local NHS service. He felt that we had a great maternity service. I was surprised to hear this view because of the recent maternity scandal and subsequent suppression of the CQC report.  I was also aware that earlier this year my local Trust had been placed in special measures. The reply I received was that this was almost entirely due to poor management. However I also know that mortality rates were high and I remembered something about the maternity department at Furness General Hospital, FGH having the highest death rate in the country. I had read that in 2011 "leaked figures revealed that FGH had the worst mortality rate of any hospital in England".

There is a lot of good and excellent work that is carried out within the NHS. The trouble is that there is also a lot of bad work. I couldn't sum up my feeling any better than by quoting Jackie Daniel, my Trust's chief executive. "The reports reflect the fact we are part-way through a process of significant improvement which is still going to take a number of years to complete...It isn't an overnight job to change the culture of a large, complex organisation." There's something wrong with the NHS culture.

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Saturday, 8 November 2014

Morecambe isn't 'worst'.

In 2003 a book called 'Crap Towns' was published and Morecambe managed to claim third spot in the list. Morecambe did manage to drop out of the list in the next two editions but I have seen no strong defence that Morecambe did not deserve its famous initial third position. I have written previously about how Morecambe could regenerate and a lot of this depended on the link road which is now well under way. There are many other ways to aid regeneration such as a bridge across the bay and there is still plenty of work to do to improve Morecambe.

One method of supporting the local economy is to support local music festivals and Morecambe does have some small festivals. Unfortunately the local council recently failed to support a punk festival which brings many people into the town. There is talk of support in the near future but this must affect planning and confidence in Morecambe. It is therefore not surprising to read in the Independent that Morecambe has been named in another list. This time it relates to the worst places to shop in the UK.

There is no doubt that Morecambe residents often turn elsewhere for their shopping but equally there is no doubt that Morecambe's economy should improve with the link road. A multi-faceted approach will improve Morecambe's fortunes. The problem is that we have been tarnished by many previous decisions and the subsequent lists that name us as 'worst'.

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Saturday, 1 November 2014

Not a pleasant shoot

I saw a pheasant 'shoot' this week. I wasn't invited. I just happened to be there. I guess there were a couple of dozen people with guns and half a dozen people who were running the event. It was held, as you would guess, in the countryside but all these people were wearing fine clothes. One person in particular looked very fine in his suit. The strange thing was that at times he was driving a quad bike. These were not the types of clothes that you would want to get dirty. Having said that I don't think they did get dirty.

I saw the delivery of food and bottles of wine and cans of beer to wash it down. I saw a camaraderie among the shooters. I saw them displaying their trophies. I saw them enjoying themselves. But most of all I saw pheasants being shot.

My guess is that around 60 pheasants flew across a field in the space of five minutes. The first dozen managed to fly across and none were hit. There was a great number of gunshots. The vast majority must have missed their targets. Then one or two slowly landed in the distance. I guessed they had been shot but I wasn't certain as they could have been trying to hide. I soon put two and two together. They had been injured.

I saw pheasants that were hit and then plummet to the ground. They may have been killed instantly. Then I saw a pheasant flying very close to where I was sat. It was hit in the wing and was trying to fly away with it's one remaining wing. It flew straight into a stone wall. I think it died on impact.

I began to wonder what sort of person shoots pheasant. They are bred for this 'sport' so it's not to keep their numbers down. I decided that they must be people with a fairly significant disposable income that don't mind injuring and killing animals, but mostly they are people who use the shoot as a social gathering. It may be that these five minutes were repeated a few times in the day and I only saw one of them but it did take all day.

Then I saw the collection of the carcasses. There were two dogs which were highly trained and they were sent to carry the birds back to their owner. You could see where the birds landed. You didn't need dogs to find them. You didn't need dogs to carry them back as the field was not that big. The bird that hit the stone wall did not land in the field and the dogs were not allowed to enter this area. So the only time when a dog might have been useful to find a bird they were not used. Yes they were highly trained but a shoot is no reason for giving them this training. I am sure they could perform other very useful tasks.

I am not concerned with arguments about whether game birds are bred in captivity, or whether the game birds' natural predators are trapped and killed. I am not bothered if the birds are eaten or if supporters of the shoot are those who maintain the countryside. I am not even concerned about whether shooting is really popular. Any pro-shooting argument is 'shot down' by the shoot itself. I did ask who would do such a thing. Well it's obviously someone who doesn't mind giving pain to these birds.

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Monday, 13 October 2014

Ebola travel ban: Imagine it's your friend or relative

Here is an interesting photo from Facebook. At first glance it makes sense that Ebola should not be helped to spread around the world. Let's think about it a bit more. Closing borders for any reason means border checks. We can't check for Ebola in other countries so the checks have to be done here and then we have to make sure it isn't cholera or malaria or lots of other diseases.

We have to be prepared to fly patients back to where they came from so we would have to protect the airplane staff. We have seen the extensive personal protective equipment that is needed for this and it would make for a strange extra flight because I wouldn't book a seat on that one.

Then we have to turn away British subjects returning with the disease. Where do they go? Back to where they came in order to die? Imagine that is your friend or relative. Do you still want to share this photo?

Disease doesn't stop at national borders. Do we stop flights from particular areas? What about the possibility that a sick person has taken two flights to get to Britain. Do we want to stop all border movement?

My first thought was that if my relative was coming back to the country and was ill then I want them to receive care. This photo tells us to let them die. It's not a nice photo and it's not nice to share.

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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Selling Out The Staff

I had a conversation today with someone whose relation works in the courts. She was given a 12-month contract and then had to apply for her job again and she was successful, if that is the right word. She received another contract for three months with £100 less pay per month. Her new employer was an agency, so the courts were paying more for the same person who had to be re-employed. I believe it when I am told that all the other staff tell her she is doing a good job and want her on a permanent contract and she couldn't have a mortgage on this contract even if the government built thousands of 'affordable' housing.

Competitive tendering in the NHS means keeping the internal markets efficient and effective, or so they tell us. I know someone who was a manager in the laundry. He was doing his job efficiently and effectively but another company tendered for this role and won. He lost his job and left the NHS. He lost it because time and motion people had come in from outside companies and laid down the plans to give employees worse terms and conditions and to offer a cheaper service - I use the term cheaper in the financial and the quality sense.

I have worked in the NHS when governments of different colours, including red were selling it off. I use the phrase 'selling it off' because this is what Labour banners now tell us they don't want. It is hard to believe them. We do want an efficient and effective service. We don't want chopping and changing for the sake of worsening terms and conditions, for that is what it amounts to. Mostly, we don't want to see an apathetic workforce caused by political whim. 

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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Who Is This We Exactly?

Yesterday's party political broadcast by the Conservative Party reminds us of the 13 years of Labour government and how it felt to see businesses close and (other) people lose their jobs. Britain was down, but "we rolled up our sleeves" and we are making progress again. 1.8 million more people are in work after four years of coalition, and "providing for their families". The trouble is that many people will still relate to businesses closing. Many are still out of work. The unemployment rate  was 7.8% at the last general election and 6.5% now. Sounds great but not if you are part of the 6.5%, and what about the manipulations of the figures like zero-hours contracts?

The broadcast has the audacity to suggest (sorry that should be tell us) that "our children can grow up without mountains of debt". When I grew up I went to university and I received a grant and no debt. Now almost half of our children go to university and end up with a mountain of debt.

Vote Conservative and hard-working families will be rewarded. David Cameron tells us that our "debts will be paid down" whatever that means. I won't say he has confused the deficit and debt (again), but we really have to get rid of the deficit before we can even think about debt. I would have thought that he should have learned his lesson.

It is quite clear where this broadcast is directed. It is for the 'hard workers'. It is for those in employment. It is for families that are still together. What about those who work hard but don't get paid for it? What about the unemployed? What about those from broken families? Well  I suppose David has given up on their vote so why bother asking?

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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Blackpool Airport, a Gold Mine?

It is sad to read that Blackpool Airport may be closing if no buyer is found. I have worked within a stone's throw of the airport and I have met many people who used it. It is twenty years since I worked there but I think I was told that parking was free. This would have been a big bonus to flying from Blackpool but the main benefit to those who use it is that it saves them a drive to Manchester, Liverpool, or further afield.

It is a lovely location by the Irish Sea and between Blackpool and Lytham St Annes and with those two towns either side there must be a good chance that developers could move in and build houses. We need houses and there can be few complaints as there is a good road in and out. It has to be a good road as it caters for the holiday traffic. In my humble opinion this large site is ripe for development.

So who owns the airport? I was a little surprised to find that 95% of it was owned by Balfour Beatty and the other 5% by Blackpool Council. This is great news. Balfour Beatty, only need the council's permission and they are sitting on a gold mine. The council is also likely to pass the land for building because of all the extra revenue when the houses are built, and of course they have a vested interest in the 5% stake. That's lucky for both the owners.

It's also nice to read that  Blackpool council and Balfour Beatty have had a good working relationship over the past 14 years. Wait a minute. Isn't the council supposed to have no bias when it comes to planning? Are we less likely to hear any concerns about any future development in which the council has a vested interest?

When I was working in Blackpool there were houses on East Park Drive near Stanley Park which were not fit to live in. These houses were new. I seem to remember the council and the builders were strongly criticised and I also vaguely remember an out-of-court settlement. Does anyone remember these houses as I have spent twenty minutes searching and can't find a thing? I remember that it did make Look North West and the Sunday Politics but it could well have been in the days before everything was written into the internet.

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Thursday, 25 September 2014

Compelling Arguments For Military Action?

If I had to vote on whether we take part in air strikes against ISIL in Iraq then at the moment I would definitely abstain. It is a decision that cannot be taken lightly so there have to be compelling arguments. Let's look at those arguments.

Firstly the attacks would be legal because the government has asked for them. I'm not sure about the justification of what make this legal because if Saddam Hussein had asked for air strikes against the Kurds then would this have been legal? The answer is clearly no. There is a lot more information that I need before I change my mind about abstaining.

Secondly this is a very big coalition. If the whole class shouts "fight" does it make it alright to fight.

Thirdly there will be no British combat forces on the ground, not now and not in the future. Does this mean that there are never any convincing arguments to use troops? What about all the compelling arguments that politicians have used in the recent past? What about all the compelling arguments put forward in the recent past by our military leaders? And they should know.

Fourthly this decision is good because it has to be voted on in the House of Commons. The trouble is that I remember the vote when we went to war in Iraq. That was the House of Commons too, and wait a minute, David Cameron is telling us that the decision has already been made.

Will this decision to take part in air strikes make the world a safer place? Well it didn't make it a safer place for one French tourist,  HervĂ© Gourdel in Algeria. He was beheaded because of French military intervention against ISIS.

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Ed Balls - not quite affordable and fair

In his speech today at the Labour Party conference Ed Balls told us he wants pay settlements that are affordable and fair. "Private and public sector workers should all share in rising prosperity. So Labour will not undermine fairness and the independent review bodies by rejecting their advice out of hand". Good point well made Ed. Unfortunately I did hear you, a few minutes earlier, talking about  ministerial pay rises. If you win the election the pay for every government minister will be cut by 5% and ministerial pay will be frozen each year until they have balanced the nation's books.

This makes me think two things. Firstly that you have undermined fairness for the sake of applause at conference. You see, for the working man (and woman) government ministers earn unimaginable amount and a freeze for a few years (because surely you can't guarantee fiscal restraint for longer than a government's term in office) is not that important. Sure - it's a nice sign but that's all it is. And if we are to take this sign seriously then Labour is saying that you should not earn the right wage as a politician. Following this logic then you are stopping many entering politics. That's probably the case anyway but shouldn't we be concerned about equality and diversity and getting people from underprivileged backgrounds into politics. Secondly, we have an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to review pay. Would it save a lot of money if and should Labour be saying that they would scrap IPSA? Surely not, as then we would be back to MPs giving themselves rises.

It makes me think that MPs can afford wage cuts and Labour MPs would do this to win votes. This may then lead to a Dutch auction to see who can take the least pay in order to win votes. If IPSA say a pay rise is fair then accept it. Don't try to win votes by telling us you will take a pay cut. That road leads to MPs who are only from a certain background. So those with plenty of money like Nigel Farage will be the model for future candidates.

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Poor to be hit hardest by Labour

It was good to see one head shaking in the audience for Ed Balls' speech at the Labour Party Conference today. Here's the background. Ed wants to see child benefit rising again in line with inflation but he won't spend money that he can't afford. So if Labour get back to power they will cap the rise in child benefit to 1% which will save £400,000,000. Sounds like a lot but that's when I saw the one incredulous female face. You see large figures do sound large but this delegate was thinking that she relies on her child benefit to keep her head above water and related to inflation she sees it is now going to be cut. She is thinking how can she manage.

The good news, in the next breath Ed told us that all the savings will go towards cutting the deficit, but this lady's expression didn't change. In fact the person next to her also pulled a face as if to say that the deficit  was one thing but her child benefit was another. Ed went on to reassure us that "unlike the Tories, we will ask those who have the most to make the bigger contribution". Hang on Ed, I thought you were talking about a benefit not a tax. You know, it's a bit like calling the bedroom tax a tax when it's a subsidy. (just in case you are wondering about my view on the spare room subsidy, there is nothing wrong with the idea of getting the right-sized families into the right-sized homes. It's implementation has not been good but moves by Liberal Democrat Andrew George should sort this out.

Ed goes on to talk about the 50p tax cut and makes a complicated issue very simple. A Labour government will reverse this tax cut. However, I am confused (and so are two members of the audience). If Labour propose to reduce child benefit (which is the effect of a 1% rise if inflation is higher than 1%) then a something and nothing reduction for the rich will certainly be hurting the poor. So Ed is not asking "those who have the most to make the bigger contribution". He is asking them to take the biggest hit.

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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Need For Speed Reduction

I am not against cars. I have owned one for many years and there are many benefits to using them but they do have their problems. They kill people and cause road rage (with a little help from the drivers). They harm the environment. They raise stress levels even without road rage. They are particularly a problem in urban areas. Everyone in Morecambe and Lancaster will tell you about our traffic jams as we must have some of the best in the country.

In rural areas cars are often a necessity so if we want to get people out of cars then we have to think about urban areas. I often cycle to Lancaster and a very pleasant ride it is too. On the other hand a link road is being built as I write and what a bonus this will be all drivers from the Morecambe and Heysham peninsula who want to get to the M6. It won't help people get out of their cars and travel less or use public transport but I can certainly see the benefits.

However today's blog was inspired by comments on Facebook about speed cameras. The comments were mostly from people who had been fined and saw the cameras as a money maker for the government and I have some sympathy for this view. There is a danger from drivers who are not aware of the limit and break it unknowingly or deliberately. Excuses are many and will include ideas like it was safe to drive on the road at this speed, or I was running late because it was an emergency and risk was minimal. Other excuses may be that they got up late because they had been out the night before, or they wanted to catch the end of a television programme - make your own excuse up. One genuine excuse that I heard was that the driver thought it was a 40mph road because there was a similar road nearby!

We need to comply with the law (unless of course you happen to be an anarchist) and it's not just for safety reasons even though it is definitely better to be hit by a car at 20mph than it is at 30mh. The environment benefits from less pollution by driving at more fuel efficient speeds. Sensible acceleration will do the same thing. So will sensible deceleration, and for that matter not being stuck in jams will benefit the environment too.

Cars are tremendously liberating, and in its way so too is a link road but we have to look after the environment. This doesn't mean stopping in the house and leaving the car parked outside the door, but it does mean getting up at the right time if we have been out on the previous evening. It does mean that we need to plan journeys so we don't feel the need to break the law. It does mean that we can't be ignorant of the law, but mostly it means that we shouldn't deliberately be looking for the fastest acceleration or deliberately breaking the speed limit. Everyone who complained about the fine (£100) should ask themselves what the level of fine should be that would change their lifestyle.

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Thursday, 11 September 2014

Deeper into the rigmarole

I phoned the centralised tax office today as my P2 hasn’t arrived, six days after my last call (see the previous blog entry). Bearing in mind that second class post is advertised as a two to three day service including Saturdays then I had hoped that I may have received it already, especially with the rigmarole that had preceded my second request.

It only took 35 minutes to get through to a real person but it did give me chance to take note of the useless information on the recorded messages. Did you know their telephone number was going to change soon? No? Well I don’t want to know. I am interested if this number is relevant to me. I hope that I never have to phone again and if I do then I hope I can find the number that I need. Again I am asked for the reason for my call and my personal details, all these questions are repeated by the real person.

The recorded message tells me that if my call is about my tax code then I only need to speak to an adviser if it is wrong. How I wish this were relevant but the recorded message hadn’t asked me.  Did I know that I can go online to get more information? Well yes. Does anyone not know that there is plenty of information about everything on the internet?

When the real person speaks to me she starts “hello my name is (too quick for me to hear), how can I help?” That’s nice. I explain that my daughter went back to university and I need a P2 because it is delaying her bursary. She tells me at once that a P2 has been sent out last Friday (I didn’t check the address – let’s hope it is right this time) and it may take 7 to 10 days. I ask why it takes so long and the answer is that it may take 7 to 10 days. I didn’t mention that this makes the first statement irrelevant as delivery now takes as long as it does. I already have recent experience of a letter addressed to me not arriving at all, and as I now understand it, delivery may take less than 7 days

I said that I’d like to complain and I am asked why. I begin to explain that the centralised system did not have my correct address even after I had corrected it – I got no apology last week. Then I am asked  “who did you speak to?” I repeat the words “who did you speak to?” as I write it down and apologise for saying this and explain that I am making notes.  “Why are you making notes?” My answer is simple; because I want to complain and I am writing a blog.

“If you are going to make notes then I’m not going to speak with you”. My reply is “I’m sorry I won’t delay you – I’ll just make brief notes”. “Clearly you are as you are repeating what I say”. Then the phone goes down.

I didn’t get the information as to how to complain about the tax office, I don't know if this P2 is going to the correct address, but if there are any comedy script writers out there then you are welcome to this information.

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Friday, 5 September 2014

Tax Form Rigmarole is Taxing

My youngest daughter has returned to university for her final year. She is a lucky one who receives a bursary but information about my income is needed. To be precise a P2 tax form is needed. I don't have one this year and I now know why. However I didn't know when I phoned last week. It took a while to get through to the tax office and I was repeatedly told they were sorry to keep me waiting.

If a phone call is free then it doesn't matter too much about waiting on the phone, although time is important to everyone, and even more important when it costs money. I was asked by automated voice to say briefly what my call was about. P2 wasn't clear enough. Then I was asked if I have authority from my employer. This is nothing to do with my employer so yes and no are not appropriate answers. I said no. Eventually I got through to a real person.

Why do we have to deal with recordings telling us they are sorry? Why can't we just have the appropriate phone number when we get an answer we find that we are speaking to an appropriate person? When I did speak to the person I found that they had my old address. He took down my new details and told me he would send out an alternative form to the P2, a P11D. Good. My daughter may not have her bursary delayed.

That was eight days ago. I haven't received it so I phoned again and went through the same rigmarole but this time it was worse. I was waiting in two queues to get to speak with a person because the first person couldn't possibly help me. Now I only have one phone number but managed to get the wrong person. When I eventually got the right person I went through the same checks again including my address. It hadn't been changed. Then, when I asked about the P11D I was met with an incredulous exclamation. The person I was speaking with could not possibly do this. Anyway he checked the records and said a P2 had been sent out - to my old address. He would re-issue another.

I asked if I was being charged for this phone call and the answer was that it depends on my provider (let me presume that I was). I also asked if there was a telephone number that I could use to speak with someone directly just in case I didn't receive the P2. No. The system is centralised and I could be speaking with anyone in the UK. I don't mind speaking with anyone in the UK. I do object to being told repeatedly that they are sorry to keep me waiting. No they aren't. It is in their interests to make money out of me by keeping me waiting. I do object to speaking to someone in a centralised system that doesn't happen to be the system I want. I do object to giving my change of address only to find that it hadn't been changed and I am forced to phone again. I do object to incredulous exclamations from tax employees because of information from other employees. However mostly I object to centralised systems taking my money and causing me to lose around an hour of my time that I'll never get back.

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Let's Stop Talking Bread And Circuses

I have just watched yesterday's Daily Politics on iPlayer and I found the contribution by Nick Ross very interesting, especially when compared to that of Conservative MP Philip Davies. The article was about law and order and how the police are asking the public to investigate their own crimes. Philip Davies was asked how the Tories, the party of law and order, could allow this to happen. He blames his coalition partners the Liberal Democrats because they are not the party of law and order. How does he get away with pure insult? Nick Ross was a guest and he explained the insult later in the interview. I can assure him that all Liberal Democrats are in favour of law and order.

Philip gets away with insult because he uses rhetoric to hide what is really happening. Philip always votes against a reduction in the police budget. He sees how stretched the police forces are. He believes in strong law and order measures. He tells us it is ludicrous to send out a message that the police want the public to investigate their own crimes. He thinks it is sensible to gather information like CCTV evidence in order to help the police. The police should reflect the public's priorities. The police do a "damn good job given how stretched they are and the issues they've got to deal with". All these points will get applause from an audience but as Nick Ross said, whether the police or the public investigate is "all a bit of a distraction...bread and circuses". Is Nick saying all that applause has been wasted? Not entirely but there should not be an emphasis on the criminal justice system.

Nick made some great comments and it would be useful to summarise them. Only 3% or 4% of crimes end up in court. We are never going to "arrest ourselves out of trouble". The reason why some crime rates are falling is nothing to do with arrest rates e.g. car crime and burglary. It isn't even CCTV or the number of police officers on the beat. However a politician on the right tends to think that if we are nastier to the criminal then we get less crime. Those on the left tend to think that if you are nice to people then you get less crime, but the effects from the criminal justice system has only marginal effects on crime rates. Temptation and opportunity are much more important factors in affecting the crime statistics. Nick gives the example of fiddling expenses by MPs. Even the Prime Minister had to pay back money. If the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade had their way maybe they would have to include the PM.

So when Philip Davies says the police should attend every burglary he hasn't listened to what Nick has said. Nick replies that we have to tailor our expectations because there are not sufficient resources. Philip comes back and says this is "absolutely my point". Sorry Philip, this is absolutely not your point. You want the police to attend every burglary regardless of its effectiveness.

Official figures tell us that crime has been falling over the last twenty years. Is this related to more bobbies on the beat? Well Teresa May tells us the drivers of crime are alcohol, drugs, opportunity, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, character and profit. She goes on to say that if we can understand these drivers better than we should be able to devise better policy to prevent crime occurring. This sounds very liberal for a Tory Home Secretary and liberal views were also reflected by the Labour Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper. She told us how the last Labour Government placed a big focus on crime prevention but she sees 'neighbourhood policing being undermined' but she does want to 'bring criminals to justice'. We are back to the rhetoric that gets applause and it is just a shame about the 96% or 97% of crimes that don't end up in court.

Mark Reckless MP, who serves as a Conservative on the Home Affairs Committee is of the strong opinion that crime has been falling because of political will. Thankfully Nick Ross is not on his own with his view that this is just bread and circuses. Betsy Stanko, a criminologist told us that the issue is not just about locking people up because they are going to come out again.

Nick said we have to lower expectations about what the court system can achieve. Andrew Neil asked Philip Davies if politicians would stop taking credit for a reduction in crime figure (and presumably stop getting applause) No, we still need to be "tougher on crime".  He still rates highly the criminal justice system and politicians can take the credit for that, so Philip will still take the credit. When Tory politicians use their rhetorical skills and get applause for their toughness on crime then they have conveniently forgotten the bread and circuses.

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Partisan thinking does not lead to peace

The Arab Spring began in late 2010 when violent and non-violent protest arose in many Arabic countries in the Middle East and North Africa.  We have seen many disturbing acts on our television screens but who can forget those scenes in Libya when Colonel Gaddafi was executed or the violence in Egypt?

I am sure we all have our own particular distressing scenes that we remember but let’s take Syria where the civil war began as a protest against the government which was followed by violent crackdowns, and then protest became armed rebellion and war. Hezbollah gave support to the Syrian army. ISIS, a jihadist militant group are fighting the army. Russia supports the government, while the USA supports the rebels. Our ‘special’ relationship must mean that our government sees the Syrian establishment as bad and the rebels as good.

The trouble with this sort of partisan thinking is that it does not lead to peace. There are opposing sides in any conflict but now take Gaza. Here there is propaganda on both sides, and there are good and bad people on both sides. Anyone who takes the side wholly of the Palestinians or wholly of Israel is not a lover of peace. It may well be that you think that Israel has carried out war crimes and its response is totally disproportionate to attacks from a terrorist organisation. You may think that it is appalling, that Israel has bombed innocent children in their school but unless we all look to negotiate peace settlements and criticise all sides in violent conflict then violence will continue.

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Saturday, 12 July 2014

Lord Carey gets it wrong

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury is in the news today because he remains a member of the House of Lords and has indicated that he will support the Assisted Dying Bill "in the face of the reality of needless suffering". He has obviously decided that there are clear guidelines between needless and needful suffering. He obviously believes that there is no right and wrong in matters of life and death despite that bit in the Bible about thou shalt not kill, because that is what assisted dying does.

I have also seen a quote from the campaign for dignity in dying, "an assisted dying law would not result in more people dying, but in fewer people suffering". Well the first part of the quote is simply a waste of time because we all know that everyone is going to die. As for the second part, we expect medical science to conquer suffering. Where we are let down is not in the control of terminal pain, but by the suffering that is caused by the malpractice of basic care to those who are vulnerable. If you don't believe me take a look at 'care home abuse' in a search engine.

Dr Carey should know better because if he wants to break one of the ten commandments with his exceptional circumstances then what about the other nine? Can I covet my neighbour's wife if I don't get my tea on time or if the other woman is exceptionally beautiful or talented? Pick your own exceptional circumstance.

Change the world

Monday, 7 July 2014

Theatre of the Absurd

I have just returned from a short break in London. I went to the theatre a couple of times, and feeling like a lazy tourist, I went into one of those half-price theatre ticket outlets. Unfortunately they only had the most expensive seats for the performance that I wanted to watch so I didn't book them. Strangely, I went to the theatre box office for the same production and all tickets were available including some that are only sold on the day which are £15 as opposed to the top price of £57. The view to the stage was fine and I had just saved £42 on each ticket!

This made me think about our markets in general. There are times when a third party will make life more convenient for us but they want something in return. When I see 'half-price tickets' I should know that it is the middle man's job to make money. They don't want to sell tickets cheaply as they make more money by selling the most expensive items - and they make a livelihood. It should be cheaper to cut out the middle man. It should be more efficient to deal directly with the producer of the commodity or the provider of the service and it should not make any difference whether it is the NHS or street cleaning, providing transport or anything else you can think of.

The trouble is that we, as consumers, are lazy. We want middle men to make our lives slightly easier. It doesn't make for the most efficient systems  but we need a balance between the public and private sector. Now I will always deal directly with the theatre's box office and maybe this is a good rule of thumb for anyone thinking of contracting out their service. Margaret Thatcher used a divide and rule method of thinking in her policies. What does it matter if there are no council houses as long as she wins the votes of the people who live in those houses? It certainly matters to those who want a council house. What does it matter if I am too lazy to deal with a box office as long as I use my money in a way that is convenient to me? This was Thatcher's strong answer, and the strong reply should be that it matters a lot because we are living in a society in which efficiency doesn't matter. Personal gain overrules the right thing to do - and that isn't right. We may have spare money but that doesn't mean we should spend it recklessly as individuals or as a society.

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Friday, 27 June 2014

UKIP: Not all bad?

Today I heard from a local councillor that there were many (other) councillors who were concerned about the Ukip effect and their main concern was whether they would hold their seats.

This is perhaps the main reason why I became active in politics. It is simply not right that any elected representative can sit back and have no concerns about whether they would hold their seats. Far too many are elected for life, regardless of what they do, so long as they keep in with their party. If this is not an incentive to be lazy then at least it is an incentive to simply keep friends in the local party, and both incentives have little to do with doing the right thing for the electorate.

Maybe I shouldn't be too harsh with Ukip, after all, they might be making ensconced councillors do some work.

Change the world 

Friday, 30 May 2014

Change in the NHS?

The NHS is a common theme in these blogs - well I did work there for 25 years so I know a little bit about it. Common themes run along the lines that members of the public want a good local service, there is pressure to close smaller hospitals and there should be local accountability.

However there is no local accountability and the NHS has been centralised. There seems to  be a certain inevitability about centralisation as technology advances and becomes more expensive, but the whole of the NHS, regardless of its sophistication, has been swept into the tide of centralisation. Minor injuries are often dealt with at centres of excellence. Consultations often take place in hospitals which are miles from the patient's home when all that is needed is a private room. Local hospitals have closed.

Times may have changed in regard to the provision of local NHS services. The BBC reports that the new chief executive, Simon Stevens said that there needed to be new models of care built around smaller local hospitals.There appears to be a welcome shift towards prevention rather than treatment. When there is a need for acute care then centres of excellence may be the place to be, but there are so many health care interactions that take place that do not need these centres.

The appointment of Simon Stevens could provide a much-needed opportunity for change for the better. He has a lot of relevant experience and a good reputation and crosses the political divide, being an adviser to the former Labour government  that the current government is very happy to have acquired. Hopes and expectations are running high. Are those hopes and expectations justified? Well you can see from the links above that he's now saying some of the things that I've been saying in the past, so that's definitely a good sign :-). Maybe it is beyond Simon's scope but let's also hope that local accountability also gets on the NHS agenda.

Change the world.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Reason 9: Making it legal for a man to rape or assault his wife

I have received a comment about last week's blog 'Top reasons for voting UKIP?' which asked about point 9, 'Making it legal for a man to rape or assault his wife'. Here is a brief answer to that comment.

In 2006 UKIP members voted against a resolution titled "combating violence against women", one which "urges member states" ... "to make rape within marriage a criminal offence".

Now UKIP almost always either abstains or votes against absolutely anything and everything which comes up in the European parliament (which is why their claim to "give the UK a voice in Europe" is particularly nonsensical), so it might have made some sense for them to abstain. At least they would have been being consistent in doing so. But they didn't abstain, they voted against. At the time there were 12 UKIP MEPs, and the vote went 545 for and 14 against, so you can see that apart from UKIP there were only 2 MEPs disturbed enough to vote against. To absolutely everyone else UKIP must have been seen as a pariah, and Britain too by extension, because we are disturbed enough to vote these people in.

It could be argued that voting against the criminalisation of something is not the same as voting for that something, so that technically the list of ten reasons is slightly inaccurate, but that is a technicality which I think wouldn't impress many people. What cannot be doubted is that UKIP made a very wrong move, one which showed them up and showed Britain up, and they should be ashamed about it.

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Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Reason 1: Scrapping Paid Maternity Leave

This week the police asked someone to remove a tweet about the ten UKIP policies that I listed in yesterday's blog. I am concerned that the police don't know how tweets work. I am more concerned that they tried to stifle political debate. I am even more concerned that the police acted on a complaint from a UKIP councillor even though there was nothing illegal. The police should have enough to do maintaining law and order. However I save my greatest concern for UKIP policies themselves - and if polls are anything to go by, they will receive votes for these policies in the European elections.

So in this blog I will look at the first policy on the list, scrapping paid maternity leave. This link doesn't just tell us that UKIP would abolish statutory maternity leave, it is also a useful link for anyone wanting to read abour UKIP's other policies. They would make a good comedy sketch except this isn't a comedy. Here is another link to a web page entitled 'support maternity leave'.

I have linked to this piece in the Guardian previously as it is a good expose of the rubbish that was the UKIP manifesto in 2010. If you are a UKIP supporter and want to criticise me for being vague in my criticism then I would ask you to read the article and be aware that Nigel Farage thinks it is rubbish too. Is your faith in UKIP's policies now not shaken to the core? How can you lend support to a party that asks for your vote on a manifesto based on rubbish? You may feel that that was then and this is now and Nigel is a good bloke that you could go down to the pub with and share a pint. Well think again. This week UKIP don't want you to hear their policies and will send the police round if you mention them. I'll soon be writing about the other policies. In the meantime the gauntlet is still down for any UKIP supporter.

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Monday, 12 May 2014

Top reasons for voting UKIP?

There is a parody of a Ukip poster which may be seen on social media. To save you looking for it I will let you know the 'ten great reasons' that it mentions for voting Ukip. It is supposed to be a parody. The trouble is that I am willing to throw down another gauntlet (see previous blog), this time to Ukip and see if anyone wants to debate any of their policies. Here they are...

Scrapping paid maternity leave
Raising income tax for the poorest 88% of Britons
Scrapping your holiday entitlement
Speeding up privatisation of the NHS
Cancelling all planned house-building
Abandoning all action on climate change
Cancelling regulations to make banks safer
Abolishing laws to protect your human rights
Making it legal for a man to rape or assault his wife
Cutting education spending and buying 3 aircraft carriers instead

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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Labour for ... what, exactly?

I have just watched the Labour Party broadcast. I know it is the Labour Party's because it said so in the first few seconds. The rest of the broadcast was spent insulting Nick Clegg. It did mention the Labour Party in the last few seconds but we didn't hear anything about their policies.

The theme was that Liberal Democrats were ineffective in Government. Well how does the Labour Party account for the implementation of 75% of the Liberal Democrat manifesto? There was specific mention of tuition fees - now that is obviously part of the 25% which didn't get through the coalition agreement, but that's what it means to have a coalition. It doesn't mean that Liberal Democrats changed their opinion. Are the Labour Party telling us that the other 75% of the manifesto would have got through without a coalition government? I don't think so. Moreover, I am sure that they told us nothing about Labour policy.

If I want to hear what a party is saying then I will take a look at what they say. I will balance this with what the other parties say e.g. the Labour Party supports tuition fees - and introduced them. So much for informed democracy!

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P.S. I watched the broadcast again . It is simply insulting and wrong. I am happy to debate with anyone who wishes to take up the Labour gauntlet, but the reason for the P.S. is that the initial mention of the Labour Party tells us it is a broadcast for the European elections - it was absolutely nothing to do with the European elections. How do they get away with it?

Monday, 5 May 2014

UKIP against almost everything

As we get nearer to the European elections I think it is a good time to look back on blogs that I have written relating to Europe. I haven't written much about the BNP. They have been very quiet (thankfully) apart from one obnoxious leaflet. I hope it is easy for voters to see how obnoxious they are without too much explanation. The family of Lee Rigby managed to say how sickened they were when one party used his name in order to gain political advantage. Well the BNP have done so too. I haven't written much about the Tory or Labour views on Europe. They have also been quiet. However the Liberal Democrats have been active in our endorsement of the EU despite its faults. It is obvious that improvements can and should be made but that's far from UKIP's position of removing us from the EU.

UKIP have been making headlines, so this year I have written seven blogs about them. I have written many other blogs about UKIP in the past which is a good way of recording their message because there are many people who seem to think that UKIP's simple message is that immigration is bad (it isn't) and that all our problems would be solved in we left the EU and those interfering unelected European bureaucrats. You don't find specific accusations of bureaucracy because specific regulations are welcomed by those that have to deal with them. If you are buying or selling you want to know that safety standards have been met and that you have the right amount of what you are buying in your box. Consumers don't like bananas with too much of a bend. They aren't banned by the EU but if you get a lot of them in a box then you get fewer bananas and less people wanting to buy them.

UKIP are against a free market and  keeping up staffing levels in British industry (4th May). UKIP are against democracy (3rd May). UKIP are denying it is a racist party because its members are often to be found saying racist things (27th April). UKIP are climate change deniers - as well as Nigel Farage claiming women are "worth less" to employers and rejecting the whole of their last manifesto, and how this time it appears UKIP could not balance the countries books (15th Feb). Lord Pearson, UKIP's leader in 2010 didn't know their 2010 manifesto (4th Feb). UKIPs Head of Policy demonstrates that the party is anti-Muslim and does not have a Christian attitude when it comes to asylum policy (3rd Feb). Nigel making comments about race (they aren't racist because Nigel says they aren't a racist party but I can't tell the difference) as black people can't mix with white people because of the numbers involved. It is unstated whether two black people can get along - or 20 or 200 or 2000 which leaves the listener with the simple impression that Nigel is telling them there are too many black people in the country (why aren't UKIP racist?) (8th Jan).

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Sunday, 4 May 2014

UKIP against staffing care homes

The first page of yesterday's UKIP leaflet has the headline 'Our politicians have allowed open-door immigration'. When translated this means that we are a member of Europe which allows the free movement of labour i.e. our ability to work in the rest of Europe, and our ability to find employees for the jobs that English-born people can't or won't do or more simply for the jobs where nobody is applying. This means we can staff our NHS, our care homes, our farms, in fact any industry in areas where we don't have the workforce. UK Employers want that free market and so should we. Immigrants don't come here to claim benefits and they are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to getting a job.

If you believe that EU immigrants come here to take benefits then you may have been persuaded with phrases like 'open-door'. Oh the door is open, let's get a house and benefits. It doesn't happen but this rhetoric plays on fear.

'Only UKIP will take back control' completes page one of their leaflet. However our economy is stronger for immigration as it stands. If huge control measures (which would mean impositions on the many members of the UK who live in Europe) are imposed then is there any guarantee that our economy would improve? I can guarantee a huge increase in red tape.

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Saturday, 3 May 2014

UKIP against informed democracy

If you had to teach politics to young children then what would you tell them? You might start with the present voting system. It may not be perfect - actually it isn't perfect but it is the method that we have of electing our representatives. The voting system does not reflect the voting intentions of the population as it isn't proportional but at least we have the opportunity to vote. Then I would tell the children how important it is to vote. If we didn't then we may lose democracy completely. Dictatorships have some benefits but there are no checks and balances and dictators can be bad too.

I would tell the children that should vote but if they don't like any of the candidates then they should spoil their vote in order to register their protest. Apathy is the easiest answer for those asking why people don't vote. However the children would need to know what each candidate stands for. I have been a political activist for many years and I occasionally meet supporters of other parties who don't want to know about the opposition. How can they know that their party is the best unless they know what the others are saying?

Today I received my UKIP leaflet for the European elections. They obviously have plenty of money to spend on their leaflets but a large part of it is in the form of a poster. The sub-heading reads 'No More Leaflets Thank You'. It is obviously their party policy that their supporters should not be informed. They are not a party that supports informed democracy. They are the anti-politics party which does no-one who believes in democracy any good.

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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Lenny Henry and the Black Country vote

I have just returned from my brother's house in France. I was doing some work on the house and I did manage to meet a few of the neighbours and practice my French. If the people in his village are anything like the English, according to recent reports, then I was quite lucky that I didn't meet anyone who told me that I am taking their jobs and that he is taking their houses. In fact I received a very nice welcome.

Compare that to the former BNP voters who feel "swamped" by immigrants. Compare that to UKIP employing an Irish actor telling us that "British workers are hit hard by unlimited cheap Labour". Compare that to a UKIP candidate tweeting that Lenny Henry should emigrate to a "black country".

UKIP said it was a "non-racist, non-sectarian party whose members are expected to uphold these values". UKIP could get away with this defence if they didn't have form. I have already written some blogs about their rogues. They could get away with this defence if their policies bore no relationship to the policies of their mavericks. I have criticised many of their policies in my previous blogs but the one policy that dominates is closing the gates on immigration regardless of how important it is to keep them open. I have written blogs about this too.

You can't feel swamped by immigrants that you can't recognise. There has to be some distinguishing feature that makes people feel swamped - perhaps colour of skin. UKIP shouldn't employ a foreign worker to tell people that you shouldn't employ foreign workers. In fact the immigrant work force strengthens our economy. British workers are not "hit". Their message is wrong in practice and wrong in meaning. Why should it strike a chord and allow UKIP to top polls for the European election?

UKIP has a leader that doesn't know it's last manifesto and he finds the idea that he should know party policy irrelevant. Their party is a farce but still they will get votes. At least they won't get Lenny Henry's vote. Wouldn't it be nice if we gave a warm welcome to immigrants who are strengthening our economy - a bit like the welcome we would like to receive in another country?

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Friday, 21 March 2014

Holidays: The staggering question

I was speaking with some teachers this week and one mentioned that her holidays did not coincide with other members of the family. This reminded me of the recent debate on this subject by MPs and their suggestion that school holidays should be staggered. At first glance staggering holidays is a good thing. Think of the wakes weeks (if you are old enough). Towns did not take the same weeks as their neighbours for many reasons. Think of the implications on the transport system as well as the holidays that are available.

However the staggering of holidays would not help couples who work in different schools. It may be alright in the summer holidays but I don't think they will be happy if they have two weeks off and don't see each other. I don't think that any teacher would be happy if their holiday did not coincide with those of their children.

The major concern for MPs was the cost of taking a holiday during school vacations. You can't blame the travel companies for increasing the prices. It is their job to maximise profits and if there is a greater demand then prices go up - that's capitalism. I am glad that MPs dismissed the idea of suspending airport passenger duty. If this happened then we would be saying "please take your holidays abroad and fly there". This is not a good use of the earth's resources especially if holidaymakers spend their time lying in the sun. Firstly the sun is (generally) not good for you, and secondly we may have to wait but the sun does shine in England.

The conversation turned to whether parents may take children out of school in order to buy a cheaper holiday and I was surprised to hear the argument put forward by teachers that children are able to learn more by going on holiday and learning from the experience. This may be true of some parents but not of others, and equality of opportunity is an important principle for all children. My immediate response related to the effort that teachers had gone to in preparing their lessons as well as taking the lesson. The children would miss this lesson and any subsequent lesson that built on this learning experience.

There is an underlying suggestion that holidays (that are slightly more expensive that the family can afford) are more important than school attendance. We have to question the importance of foreign holidays, the widespread use of air travel and most importantly the value we place on our schools. It may be that the teachers that I spoke with are humble people who have high regard for the pedagogical abilities of  parents. There is no doubt that education has an important role within the family but there is a more important factor in how we value education and taking children out of school lowers that value. Fundamentally we have to see what is important about holidays and it is not the ability to take children out of school, to travel across the world or to have a better holiday than our neighbour. If we hold higher values on such things as relationships, shared experience and learning then there would be no thought of taking children out of school.

Change the world.

Beer and bingo for the patronised

One definition of the word 'patronising' from the Collins dictionary is 'having a superior manner, condescending'. You may prefer a definition that tells you about an apparent kindness which betrays a feeling of superiority but however you define the word you need to know something about the feelings of others if you are going to call them patronising.

Consider the wording of the latest Conservative advert: "Bingo! Cutting the bingo tax & beer duty to help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy."

Not only do we save a whole penny on a pint of beer, we get a pat on the head for being hardworking too! I think they imagined that we'd feel good about that. I suppose their thinking was that the sort of people who drink beer and play bingo wouldn't notice if they were being patronised.

I find this puzzling because there must be some Tories who do such things. Let's presume it is just those Tories who make decisions - about policy, about adverts - who don't drink beer and play bingo. Then it becomes easier to understand. There's still one other puzzle though - the wording of the ad does not appear to include themselves among the hard working. Can that be right? I doubt it - even the ones who've never done a day's work in their lives because they have servants to do everything for them will still claim to be hardworking, I'm sure.

I would think that Tories don't usually drink beer - why have beer when you can have champagne? - but they still need to have the occasional pint as a prop for photo opportunities in bistro pubs on the campaign trail. Even if you only take a sip of the disgusting brew it still has to be paid for.  And if you save a penny on each pint, those pennies soon mount up.

If you feel that the general opinion of Tory policy makers is that drinking wine is superior to drinking beer, or playing croquet (or whatever pastime they prefer) is superior to playing bingo then they are being condescending. It is a badly written advert simply because it confirms what we all know. It is patronising.

I suspect that the Tories took what was presumably initially a good idea and messed it up, getting it completely the wrong way round. After all, while the advert was pure Tory, the actual policy behind it had Lib Dem input.

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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Skillful Bankers

I was in a queue in the Halifax this morning and I overheard a conversation in which a couple of customers were told that their transaction would take three working days. They shouldn't count today at all (that would be unthinkable was the non-verbal communication) and don't count weekends. I think they were suitably admonished for not knowing a simple axiom of banking. It should have been self-evident that banks will take your money, do nothing with it till next week and then spring into action and move it to where you want it.

The reason that I was in the Halifax was because I paid some of my mortgage off on the 7th February. I received a letter last week which told me that I had left no instructions as to which part of my mortgage I wanted it to be paid, so they had applied the payment equally to each part. I didn't know that my mortgage was in parts so I went to my local Halifax this morning and they guessed it was something to do with my previous mortgage. I still have no idea if I would have been better off applying this payment to a specific part or parts of my mortgage.

I also asked when this payment would show up as a reduction in my monthly payment. They couldn't answer this but gave me a phone number and directed me to a phone within the branch. I had waited five minutes for my first question to a real person and the message on the phone was that I would wait another five minutes - still, this is what I had to do if I wanted an answer. The answer was that they hadn't had time to apply the reduction to March's bill so I could expect the reduction in April.

How difficult is it to recalculate a mortgage? I am nearly two years into a ten year mortgage. If I had taken a smaller mortgage by the amount that I paid back a few weeks ago then I can work this out in my head. It is probably the case that Halifax mortgages are much more complex but I would still expect a computer to be able to work out this amount in a push of a button and not take two months.

In the Stock Exchange, High Frequency Trading probably accounts for something like 50% of all traded volume. "At the turn of the 21st century, HFT trades had an execution time of several seconds, whereas by 2010 this had decreased to milli- and even microseconds". I'm not saying that such speeds are necessary, but surely the fact that they are possible means there's no technical reason why any transaction anywhere should ever take more than a few seconds.

I think the lesson from this morning is that bankers deserve their bonus because they can make their customers feel foolish, take their money off them and then do nothing with it for a few days or weeks - and they get away with it. That takes real skill.

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It's a battlefield out there

I have just seen the BBC's political battlefield for 2015. This isn't news but it does go a long way in explaining our political apathy. Take a look at the map of the seats in which there is a majority of 10% or less and this is where the country will decide the fate of the next Government.

Now take a look at all the constituencies that are not coloured in on the map, and this is where you will get an MP of the same colour that you have always had. No wonder members of the public will tell reporters that they aren't bothered about voting.

While it is normally true that, as the BBC article says, "Even during election landslides 70% of seats do not change hands", and this situation will not be properly addressed until we have electoral reform, still we should not see this as the whole picture. The BBC's "battlefield" analogy made me think of how often there are unexpected results in actual war, with the underdog emerging triumphant against overwhelming odds, sometimes when outnumbered ten-to-one or more. A quick Google confirmed this impression. For instance 10 Amazing Military Victories Against The Odds lists some of the less well known examples. Maybe something to think about when the time comes to vote.

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Thursday, 20 February 2014

Surveillance State

I want to visit Barcelona to take a photo of Orwell Square. George Orwell is famous for fighting in the Spanish Civil War and for writing books like 1984 and if you want to know how the surveillance state plays its part in a dystopian society then look no further than this novel. The irony is that the signs for his square in Barcelona are next to surveillance cameras - and that's the photo I want. Obviously not everyone has taken George's message on board. Cameras may play a part in protecting individual properties but they definitely intrude.

Do cameras lower the crime rate? If you were a criminal and wanted to steal something then you may see a burglar alarm and decide to move to the next house. Alternatively you may decide that there is something worth stealing from the house with the alarm so disable it and then go about taking what you want. There are many motivating factors for criminal activity like greed, envy and poverty but I don't think fear of getting caught is a significant factor. Yes, there are opportunistic thieves, and there is less opportunity when security is greater, but less theft depends on those motivating factors.

So should I be pleased if a group of local businesses create a police / community CCTV system? Well it is good for them but no, because overall crime won't decrease. A local initiative will do nothing to help the causes of theft. Secondly, I don't want all my moves to be recorded. Thirdly, why should some people get better support from the police. Fourthly, who is paying for this? If it is the group of businesses that is paying then they will have higher expectations from our public service. This is wrong. Decisions about how we are policed should be made by the police. If general taxation is paying for the implementation of this initiative then this is wrong too. Why should we pay to help a small group of businesses get a better police service over another small group? Technology is only as good as the people in charge. It may be used for good purposes but it can be for bad purposes too. Whatever the case, we are definitely moving along the road to Orwell's dystopian society.

If we want to live in a society in which every house and every business has shutters and looks like Fort Knox. if we want to have surveillance cameras on every street (why should some houses be excluded from this 'improvement'), if we want to live in a 1984 society then more cameras will help. However I would prefer to work on the causes of crime as this would help to a much greater extent than adding more cameras.

Interestingly I once dealt with a theft from a hospital which had 17 cameras surrounding it. I found the appropriate recordings and handed them to the police. They didn't have the equipment to deal with videos at that station but they sent them on. Needless to say nothing happened and it took three weeks but at least we can be assured that one small hospital keeps 17 x 24 hours of recordings each day.

Someone has to pay for cameras, someone has to deal with those recordings and there are costs involved in their maintenance. The latest technology may help those who receive payments and it may help if thieves move next door. To all my previous reasons to oppose this initiative you can add the cost.

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Saturday, 15 February 2014

Climate Change: Links to Share

This afternoon I shared a link on my Facebook page, to an open letter to the BBC by Rob Hopkins of Transition Network on the subject of climate change, and more specifically about Lord Lawson's appearance on the Today programme. Because it's a well written letter about an extremely important subject and because it deserves the widest possible circulation, I'm also linking to it here.

I would advise anyone interested in climate change to follow that link. It succinctly demolishes the "false balance" which is too often to be found in discussions of this subject, as well as debunking some of the myths which are too often used to obfuscate it. The comments below the letter also generally make for very interesting and enlightening reading.

I also made some comments on my Facebook page about this link which I'll copy here too, for reference ...

Of all the political priorities, the environment should be top of the list. Even if you think that we should close our doors to migrants, even if you think we should get out of Europe, even if you think that it doesn't matter that Ukip's leader now disowns all of their last manifesto, even if you think women who have had children are "worth less" to their employers (Nigel Farage), even if you think Ukip are able to run the economy by cutting taxes by £90 billion and increasing spending by £30 billion, then please do not vote for them on environmental reasons alone.

P.S. for anyone who glanced at Rob's open letter and concluded tl;dr ("too long; didn't read") (and I hope that applies to nobody here), here's a link to what web-comic XKCD had to say about climate change recently.

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Sunday, 9 February 2014

When to resign?

How often do we hear of a government minister doing something so wrong that they have to resign from their post, only to find that what they have done is not so bad because they can keep their job as an MP at a basic salary of £66,396?

What he has done is either so bad that he shouldn't be an MP or not so bad in which case he shouldn't resign as a minister. 

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P.S. It is now the 30th March and here is another resignation.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

UKIP's Mad Manifesto

Nigel Farage has disowned UKIP's  entire 2010 manifesto. It is worth clicking on this link as it shows that a lot of what they say is nonsense. Nigel may take the view that their next manifesto makes more sense but will their leader in another four years totally disown the 2015 manifesto?

Nigel puts forward a defence for 2010 by saying that he was not the leader. He was merely a candidate who had to support a manifesto that was nonsense. This is not a strong defence. At least Nigel now has the sense to realise that his party's 2010 manifesto is pure rubbish. It really looks like UKIP made the mistake of subcontracting the manifesto production to the Monster Raving Loony party.

You may think I'm exaggerating for effect, but if so then you probably haven't clicked on that link. I'm sure you'll agree that some of UKIP's 2010 proposals really were ridiculous enough to out-loony the raving loonies. What was even more ridiculous was for Nigel not to know what was in the manifesto; he had been leader previously and would be again, and he was at least a candidate in 2010. A brief absence from the top spot is no excuse.

Nigel Farage is in good company. In 2010 UKIP's leader, Lord Pearson also didn't have a clue regarding the content of their manifesto. However they did persuade people to vote for them by pushing perhaps two or three issues (but mainly one) which played on fear and covered up the cracks in the whole of their manifesto.

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