Friday, September 30, 2011

If Miliband took a truth drug

A superb article in the Indy this week by Matthew Norman, which you can read in it's entirety here, about the speech which Ed Miliband might have made to Labour party conference had he taken a truth serum.

Highlights from the article:

"Three minutes and 45 seconds into Ed Miliband's speech yesterday, my mind wandered off to a fantasy world in which some mischievous sprite had spiked his larynx-lubricating Evian with a truth serum."

"Conference," intoned Little Ed in the escapist grotto of my mind, "you'll have read that this is the most important speech of my life ...

"It couldn't matter less. Outside this hall and a few newsrooms, think-tanks and blogger's bedrooms, not a soul is listening to a word I say.

"Yet irrelevance is what defines any Leader of the Opposition so early in the life of a government the public has clearly decided to give a fair chance. That same public has also decided that it can no more picture me grinning triumphantly outside No 10 than Robert Mugabe, Tulisa or that late, great champion greyhound Mick The Miller. ...

"I wish it were otherwise, but I still look and sound like I'm auditioning for the forthcoming ITV1 series Adrian Mole's Mid-life Crisis, and that's something the electorate can't seem to get beyond. Less than a quarter see me as a potential PM, and plenty couldn't pick me out in an identity parade if the other seven were Peruvian mountain llamas. For Christ's sake, Harriet Harman referred to me on Sunday as 'David'.

"Now, I could ignore all that reality, and lay a big line on you about the 'quiet crisis' in British families, but the 29 TV viewers would only snort to themselves about the not-so-quiet crisis in mine. I could reduce the complexities of business to Predators vs Producers, as if it were a tag team match in wrestling, and bang on about persecuting the jobless over social housing to introduce a reward ethos into welfare. Well, fair has nothing to do with anything. What's fair about my lot?

"I'm shackled to a shadow Chancellor who patronises me while overtly seeking my job either for himself or his ice-pixie missus, and the only saving grace about Ed Balls is that the punters really hate him where they are merely indifferent to me. The rest of my front bench, as Lord Prescott has graciously pointed out, is a bone-idle shadow government of none of the talents.

"Expediency forces me to pick a fight with the union leaders who put me here ...

" and God help me if the public sector strikes go ahead. Even as things stand, I no longer have even an obviously soft poll lead over the Tories. ...

"I am here to prevent a civil war, and ensure that Labour survives for the next leader, or two, or even three, to take us back to power a decade or more from today. Thank you for listening, and please don't embarrass me or yourselves by getting up."


"The imaginary post truth-drug address transcribed above is the real world. The speech he actually gave was built upon the fantasy, colluded in by delegates and media in a mass collective act of madness, that anything Ed Miliband says could make an iota of difference to anything."

This is often the fate of opposition leaders (of whatever party.) The title of Norman's article is "It really doesn't matter what Ed said" and this reminds me of the trio "It really doesn't matter" from the Gilbert and Sullivan opera "Ruddigore" and particularly this spoof version which Spitting Image put into the mouth of Neil Kinnock many years ago when he was an even more irrelevant leader of the opposition ...


Labour views of the Labour conference

On Political Betting this week Labour supporter Henry G Manson had some interesting comments on his party's conference. Some of them were as follows:

"This was a bad Labour Party conference. It was confusing, contradictory, let the government off the hook and needlessly created an array of hostages to fortune. It all the feel of an emergency party conference arranged with a fortnight’s notice – not a platform planned carefully to showcase an alternative government and Prime Minister.

"This week wasn’t just a car crash. It was a 30 car pile-up. I could write 10,000 on words on what went wrong. For now here’s my summary from a Labour perspective. We now have:

• A leader who certainly does not look like a Prime Minister. If a first impression wasn’t already formed by the voters then it has this week. If the speech was composed and delivered with the intention of demonstrating his weaknesses over his strengths then it succeeded. He’s a nice guy but he’s out of his depth and not up to the demands of Prime Minister. The public know it and now we do too.

• A party that is now passing verdict on everything and everyone. Journalists should under license, businesses are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and TV programmes such as Big Brother are irresponsible. Labour had previously been shedding its olds authoritarian impulses. They’re back in spectacular fashion with a childlike twist. The most depressed person right now must the be the party’s head of fundraising anticipating having to run a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ business test on any future corporate donors – should any come forward. This judgementalism will only make more opponents than allies.

• A pledge to ‘spend every pound wisely’ if elected. Possibly the most na├»ve hostage to fortune since I can’t remember when. Nobody goes into government with the intention of wasting money however but this is a preposterous guarantee. But within any organisation of any scale there is always some waste or some risks that don’t come off. Should Ed Miliband’s Labour somehow stumble into power then we’ve have given a field-day for the press and Taxpayer’s Alliance to identify waste on any scale and hold up Ed’s remarks against it.

• Policy chaos. Our position on university fees that they should be double what Labour pledged at the election a year ago – yet this stance is not even a policy commitment for the next general election. So we are in an imaginary world in which we outline what we would do if in power today which only makes sense in response to what the Tories have also done having also won too. This is not even plausible science fiction.

• Strategic knots. We repeatedly oppose ‘ideological cuts’ and highlight how they undermine society and slow down the economy. Yet Labour won’t yet pledge to reverse any of them. Every time Labour speaks out on a cut they will be asked, quite reasonably ‘would you reverse it?’ Our stance makes us appear impotent and insincere.


Well, however often I may disagree with Henry Manson on other things, after reading that article I will never accuse him of being blind to the faults of his own side or unwilling to be honest about them.

You can read his article on Political Betting in its' entirety here

But if you think Henry G Manson's view of Labour conference was pessimistic (from a Labour viewpoint) the comments from Dan Hodges at Labour Uncut here, in an article called "You need more than courage to win," made Henry look like a Panglossian Optimist. This is an extract from Dan's take on the Labour conference:

"We have to understand. We need to grasp what has just happened to the Labour party.

"Ed Miliband did not have a bad week. He had a grotesque, cataclysm of a week.

"When the Leader of the Opposition finds himself having to rebut charges he’s “weird” you know something is amiss. But if you spend the whole of your own conference rebutting you know the wheels are detaching. And by Thursday morning there were more wheels bouncing around Albert Dock than a formula one pit lane.

"Rebutting the idea the NEC was going to move to have Tony Blair indicted for war crimes. That the party intended to licence journalists and kick out onto the streets those it caught misbehaving. That Ed Miliband planned to march into the Big Brother house and evict the lot of them.

"And they were just the noises off. The fact Labour’s leader has no idea who his Scottish counterpart is was a mere footnote. The rapid unravelling of the tuition fees pledge a long forgotten irritant.

"Just to put things into context, here are the responses from three shadow cabinet members to Ed’s speech on Tuesday. “I don’t understand what he was doing”, said one. “I feel physically sick”, said another. “I’m in shock”, said a third.

"Those are members of a Labour shadow cabinet. Not minions of the Murdoch Empire, or Cameron cronies. Nor are they cartoon Blairites. They are serious politicians who want to see their party back in government. And they were, literally, in despair."


My word. Let's hope our conference next week is more successful.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Euro fantasy reverses itself

I was amused to hear the President of the European Commission tell the European Parliament today that it had been a fantasy to imagine that you could have a single currency and single market without a single economic policy.

Funnily enough, a few years ago when there was a serious debate in Britain about whether we should scrap the pound, it was those of us who wanted to keep the pound who made exactly that point. Those who were arguing that you could join the euro without having a common european policy would be found on the side who were arguing that Britain should join.

It’s because it would have meant too big a loss of economic independence that we wanted to stay out, and are glad that we did.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Planning reforms will NOT make gypsy camps easier

Hat tip to Conservative Home for pointing out one of the flaws in The Daily Telegraph's campaign against the Government's planning reforms, specifically the claim that they would make it harder for local councils to stop traveller sites being established.

Not so says Bob Neill, Minister for Local Government:

"Top-down targets for traveller sites undermined local discretion and turned a blind eye to unauthorised development, harming community cohesion. The Coalition Government is scrapping the previous Government's planning rules on traveller sites and issuing explicit new planning guidance which increases protection of the Green Belt and open countryside. Stronger weight is being given to protection of local amenity and the local environment. And through the Localism Bill, councils are being given tougher enforcement powers to tackle the abuse of the system."


Localism means councils choosing whether or not to allow these sites. To say it means a "new legal route" to have them paints a rather one-sided picture. Councils may choose to allow more of them. But those who don't so choose will not be forced to.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ideas and Paradox

Thinking about some of the misplaced opposition to nuclear power recently provoked a line of thought about how often you find people holding combinations of views which you would not expect to find together.

Sometimes the combinations are counterintuitive but fall short of a direct contradiction. Sometimes people manage to believe things which are directly incompatible.

Here are a few examples

1) SUPPORT FOR ABORTION AND OPPOSITION TO THE DEATH PENALTY (or vice versa)

As the "New Scientist" once put it, "The people who think human life is sacred before birth are often the same people who think it isn't after the age of criminal responsibility."

It is by no means an exact match, but it is surprising how many people who think it is wrong for the state to execute convicted murderers also come out towards the "pro" end of the spectrum on state provision of abortion on demand, and equally surprising how many people who are towards the "anti" end of that spectrum support capital punishment.

One exception a few years ago was when "moderate" Democrats in the United States found that there were votes to be gained by the "Double Death" position (e.g. supporting abortion on demand but making a propaganda point about how many death warrants they'd signed.) And there are people whose position could equally be described as "Double Life." But I stand by the view that the correlation of views on this issue is not what you might expect.

2) PRO NUCLEAR WEAPONS, ANTI NUCLEAR ENERGY

After swallowing the camel of multi-megaton bombs and missiles designed to incinerate cities in a second, who would strain at the gnat of the peaceful use of nuclear energy? More people than you might think. In spite of the fact that you need a nuclear industry to generate the fissile material needed for H-Bombs.

This used to be the official position of the Liberal Democrats, although latterly they seem to be moving towards a welcome acceptance of the reality that Britain needs nuclear power.


3) PRO LOCAL CHOICE, ANTI "POSTCODE LOTTERY"

Ask people if they support greater local choice, diversity and autonomy and the vast majority will say yes. But as soon as any area actually starts exercising that kind of choice in the provision of services, you can bet your bottom dollar that people will start complaining that this is a "Postcode lottery."


I'm sure many people reading this can think of a few more!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Boundary Commission proposals for Cumbria

The independent Boundary Commission has now published proposals for new parliamentary constituencies, and these will be open to public consultation for the next 12 weeks, until 5th December 2011.

The proposals for Cumbria, and consultation arrangements, are given below.
(Paragraph numbers are from the North West proposals document, from which this is an extract.)

Initial proposals for the Cumbria sub-region

88. There are currently six constituencies in this sub-region, none of which has an electorate within 5% of the electoral quota. The electorates of all the existing constituencies in this county are substantially lower than the electoral quota. It was not therefore possible to leave any existing constituency boundary unchanged.

89. As mentioned previously, we propose to allocate five constituencies to this subregion, a reduction of one from the current arrangement. When developing proposals, we noted that our options were limited due both to the large geographical but small electoral size of the wards within the county, and to the national, regional and geographic borders that form the boundaries of much of the county.

We did not therefore find it possible to avoid proposing constituencies in which coastal communities were combined with those some distance inland.

90. In order to increase the size of the electorate of the existing Barrow and Furness constituency, we propose that it is extended eastwards beyond Ulverston to include Grange-over-Sands. We consider that combining these communities, all of which are linked by their proximity to Morecambe Bay and are connected by the Cumbrian Coast Line railway, is preferable to proposing an extension inland beyond the Furness Fells.

We propose that the constituency is renamed Barrow-in-Furness, to reflect the name of the major town within the constituency.

91. Such a configuration in Barrow-in-Furness allows us to propose a constituency to the north that includes the entirety of the Borough of Copeland and extends along the coast from Millom to Harrington. In order to propose a constituency whose electorate falls within 5% of the electoral quota, it is also necessary to propose the inclusion of one Borough of Allerdale ward and the extension of the constituency inland over the Cumbrian Mountains and the Furness Fells to incorporate Windermere and the surrounding area.

92. We propose that the towns of Kendal and Penrith are combined with the towns of Appleby-in-Westmorland, Kirkby Lonsdale, Kirkby Stephen, and Sedbergh in a constituency that extends from the outskirts of Carlisle to the Lancashire border. The M6 provides a strong communication link between the communities within the constituency, which we propose is named Kendal and Penrith.

93. The electorate of the City of Carlisle is such that it is not possible to include all wards within one constituency. However, all but one of the City of Carlisle wards are contained in our proposed Carlisle constituency, which stretches north to the border with Scotland.

94. We considered that the most appropriate City of Carlisle ward to be included in a different constituency, for both geographic and electoral size reasons, was Dalston on the southern outskirts of the city. We therefore propose that Dalston is included with all but one of the Borough of Allerdale wards, which are linked by the A66, and four District of Eden wards to the west of Penrith, in our proposed Workington and Keswick constituency.


How to have your say

95. We are consulting on our initial proposals for a 12-week period, from 13 September 2011 to 5 December 2011. We encourage everyone to use this opportunity to contribute to the design of the new constituencies – the more public views we hear, the more informed our decisions will be when analysing all the views we receive.

96. In particular, we ask people to bear in mind the tight constraints placed on the Commission by the rules set by Parliament, as well as the decisions we have taken regarding adoption of a regional approach and use of local government wards discussed in chapter 2 and in the BCE’s A guide to the 2013 Review. Most importantly:

a. We cannot recommend constituencies that have electorates that are more or less than 5% from the electoral quota (apart from the two covering the Isle of Wight).

b. We are basing our initial proposals on local government ward boundaries (as
at May 2010) as the building blocks of constituencies. Our view is that, in the
absence of exceptional and compelling circumstances, it would not be appropriate
to divide wards in cases where it is possible to construct constituencies
that meet the 5% statutory requirement without doing so.

c. We have constructed constituencies within regions, so as not to cross regional
boundaries. Compelling reasons would need to be given to persuade us that we
should depart from this approach.

97. These issues mean that we encourage people who are making a representation on a specific area to bear in mind the knock-on effects of their proposals. The Commission must look at the recommendations for new constituencies across the whole region (and, indeed, across England). We therefore ask everyone wishing to respond to our consultation to bear in mind the impact of their counter-proposals on neighbouring constituencies, and on those further afield across the region.

How can you give us your views?

98. There are two ways you can give us your views on our initial proposals: in writing (including by email or through the online form on our website), or in person at one of a series of public hearings we are conducting during the consultation period. People are welcome to both attend a hearing and send us a written representation.

Written representations

99. We encourage everyone to make use of our consultation website, at www.consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk, when contributing to our consultation. The website contains all the Initial proposals, reports and maps, the electorate sizes of every ward, and an online facility where you can have your say on our initial proposals.

100. You can also contribute to our consultation by writing directly to us at: Boundary Commission for England, 35 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BQ. Or email us with your views, at: northwest@bcommengland.x.gsi.gov.uk.

If you wish to comment on more than one region, please send your email to

reviews@bcommengland.x.gsi.gov.uk.

If you wish to write to us directly, we encourage you to follow the structured approach outlined below and on the separate summary sheet, copies of which can be found at your local place of deposit, or downloaded from our website at
www.consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk.

101. We encourage everyone, before submitting a representation, to read our
approach to data protection and, in particular, the publication of all representations and personal data within them. This is available at
www.consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk,

or by phoning 020 7276 1102.


Public hearings

102. The Commission will be holding public hearings across all the English regions.

In the North West region we will be hosting five public hearings during the consultation period – the maximum number allowed by the legislation. Our website (www.consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk) has more details of these hearings, and an opportunity to register to attend and speak.

A table follows which shows the locations and dates of the hearings in the North West region.

The Cumbria session is:

Monday 17th to Tuesday 18th October 2011 (NB NOTE CHANGE OF DATE)
Carlisle Civic Centre,
Rickergate,
Carlisle,
Cumbria
CA3 8QG

The purpose of the hearings is for people to have an opportunity to make representations orally to an Assistant Commissioner, who will chair the hearings and subsequently provide the Commission with a report on their findings. The hearings
differ from the way we used to conduct ‘public inquiries’ in past reviews – these were much more judicial in style, with people being allowed to cross-examine each other.

The new legislation that Parliament has introduced specifically rules out such inquiries, specifying instead that we host public hearings. These are intended purely as a way for people to make representations orally, direct to representatives of the Commission, as well as to provide an opportunity for the Commission
to explain its proposals.

104. It is important to stress that all representations, whether they have been submitted through the online facility on our website, made in person at a hearing or sent to us in writing or by email, will be given equal consideration by the Commission. Therefore it does not matter if you are unable to attend or speak at a public hearing – even after the last public hearing in the North West region has been completed on 25 October 2011, you will still have six weeks left to submit your views to us. By statute, time for the public hearings is strictly limited and you may wish to ensure that your full representations about our proposals are made to us in writing.

105. You can find more information about public hearings, and can register to attend, on our website at

www.consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk,
or by phoning 020 7276 1102.

What do we want views on?

106. While you are welcome to write to us on any issue regarding our initial proposals, it would aid our understanding and analysis if you, when contributing, followed the structured approach available on our consultation website at www.consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk.

This structured approach is also outlined below and available in our separate summary leaflet (copies of which are available in places of deposit and on our website). We encourage anyone wishing to contribute to the formation of our final recommendations to follow this approach. The structured approach will also allow us more easily to identify representations on specific areas, or from specific people, during the subsequent four week period of consultation (referred to in
chapter 2).

107. We would particularly like to ask two things of those considering responding to our consultation. First, if you support our proposals, please tell us so, as well as telling us where you object to them. Past experience suggests that too often people who are happy with our proposals do not respond in support, while those who object to them do respond to make their points. That can give a rather distorted view of the balance of public support or objection to proposals, and those who support our initial proposals may then be disappointed if they are subsequently revised in light of the consultation responses.

Second, if you are considering objecting to our proposals, do please use the resources (maps and electorate figures) available on our website and at the places of deposit to put forward counter-proposals that are in accordance with the rules to which we are working.

108. Specifically, while anyone is welcome to submit views in whatever format, we are looking for views structured around the following questions:

a. Do you agree in full, in part or not at all with our initial proposals for the North West region?

b. Which sub-regions do you agree with, and why?

c. Which sub-regions do you disagree with and why?

d. What are your alternatives for areas you disagree with that meet the statutory rules set out in chapter 2?

109. Above all, however, we encourage everyone to have their say on our initial proposals and, in doing so, to become involved in drawing the map of new Parliamentary constituencies. The more views we get on our initial proposals, the more informed our consideration in developing those proposals will be, and the better we will be able to reflect the public’s views in the final recommendations we present in 2013.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years On

There are certain iconic events in each generation that everyone remembers - for my parent's generation it was when JFK was shot, for mine the most significant was the murderous attack on the twin towers ten years ago today.

It is important that we should never forget the events of that day. About three thousand innocent people were murdered for no better reason than that they happened to be working in a building which to the perpetrators was a symbol of things they disapproved of, or were rescue workers who tried to save the lives of people in that building, or were on the civilian airplanes which were hijacked to crash into those buildings.

The victims were male and female, young and old, citizens of many different countries (including about a hundred British people), undoubtedly included people of possible political viewpoint (from those who had voted for George W Bush to those who despised everything he stood for) and certainly did include every possible religious viewpoint (from devout Christians to people of no faith to devout Muslims.)

It is important to recognise two things about this attack. While wise policies might make it easier to get on with the Muslim world and foolish policies may make it harder, we must never forget that

* the perpetrators of this attack are the enemy of every free country and will remain so whatever policies we adopt, and cannot be appeased. Whatever we do they will find some excuse to hate us, and they will hate Britain as much as the US whether we ally with America or not.

* In opposing them we must not become like them. We must not hate all Muslims the way that the barbarians behind 9/11 hate all Christians, all Jews, and all atheists. Because not all Muslims are like these viscious murderers. And we must always strike a balance between security and freedom.

Time to batten down

West Cumbria may get 80 mph winds today. Have been out in the garden removing or fastening down anything which was at risk of literally blowing away. If you'r reading this on 11th September 2011 and are in Whitehaven or West Cumbria, I strongly advise you to check that there is nothing in your garden which you wouldn't miss if this happenened. You probably don't need me to tell you that when it blows here, it really blows.