Showing posts from June, 2006

Equal Citizenship

And on the subject of Scotland and England ... Not long ago Scotland had some legitimate grievances against England. For example, it was a bad mistake to impose the Poll Tax on Scotland before it was introduced in England. But for the past eight years the boot has been on the other foot. It was totally outrageous for Scots MPs to impose top-up tuition fees on English students when the Scottish parliament had voted not to impose any equivalent top-up on their own constituents. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and the Scottish Affairs committee of the House of Commons, including Labour and even Scottish Nationalist MPs, are starting to recognise this. The present system is an unhappy half-way house between a centralised nation and a proper federal system, and is increasingly unsustainable. A few years ago, in the Northern Irish context, it was suggested that the principle of "equal citizenship" should apply between the different parts of the UK, and the present set up does not ac

On football - and Good Luck England !

Can’t let the world cup go by without at least one supportive mention of England. I was originally going to combine it with a rare word of praise for Gordon Brown – but am no longer sure he fully deserves the praise I was originally going to give him. I have family connections with all five of the major components of the British isles, and would usually describe myself as British rather than English. My parents and grandparents have lived in England for three generations, so it would look silly to make a big thing of my Scots ancestors, but this doesn’t mean that I’m not proud of them or have no interest in that side of the family history. My ancestors on both the direct male line and the direct female line were Scots. So when, a couple of decades ago, Scotland made it into the world cup finals and England didn’t, supporting Scotland was an automatic reaction which required not a moment’s thought. Furthermore, while there may have been some, I didn’t know a single English football supp

Take the plank out of your own eye first, Tony ...

Am I the only person who is astonished that, just a few days after the Home Secretary himself described the department which he runs as not being fit for purpose, we offered the services of that department to Liberia, agreeing to take on one of their most difficult potential prisoners ? Last week Britain made the offer to Liberia that, if their former dictator Charles Taylor is convicted by the international tribunal where he is currently facing war crimes charges, we will provide a jail cell for him. African countries are nervous about jailing this man because they think he might be able to bribe someone to let him escape. I would not object to Britain offering to provide a jail cell for him if I was fully confident that we had sorted out our problems with the detention, appropriate relase, and tracking of convicted criminals. But do we really have complete confidence that we have our own difficulties sorted out? And if not, should we think twice about claiming to be able to deal wi

What is going on at the Rural Payments Agency ?

Massive problems have been caused to many farmers in the rural areas of Cumbria, and much of the rest of the country, by delays in handing out the money to which they are entitled under the "Single Farm Payment" system. This replaces previous European Union farm support arrangements, and is managed by national governments rather than the European Commission. The over-complex system introduced by Margaret Beckett while she was farm minister has been a fiasco and even demonstrated that our own government is as capable of disastrous mismanagement as Brussels is. This week the BBC and the News and Star have been repeating extraordinary allegations of misconduct by staff at the Rural Payments Agency, which is responsible for paying the money. There is as yet no proof that this has anything to do with the delays in paying the farmers their money, but if there is any truth in the allegations it sounds as though staff have found something more interesting to pass the time than their

Caring for Carers

This is Carers week. Clive Arnold, who has a regular blog on the Cumbria Newspaper "News and Star" site, has posted some very important points about the work done by those who care for family members and the help they are entitled to expect. I think this country owes a huge debt to carers. As Clive rightly points out, if they didn't spend an enormous amount of time and effort caring for their loved ones, the state would have to do it at incredible expense. Carers come in all shapes and sizes. In my own family several people devoted huge amounts of love, care and effort to looking after their parents or older siblings, sometimes up to the verge of their own old age or into it. Until I moved my office to Whitehaven a few days ago, I used to sit opposite a colleague down south who in addition to a full-time job was a registered carer for his disabled adult son. I could not avoid overhearing some of his telephone battles with petty officials in the fight to get decent support

Time to rethink the Ethics rules

The vast majority of people in public life in Britain are honest, decent people who have stood for office at least partly to help other people or promote something they believe in. Most of us would be financially considerably better off if we devoted the time and money we spend on politics to other things. That applies to people of all mainstream political parties – Conservative, Labour, Lib/Dem, Scots & Welsh Nationalists, and Greens – and to most though not all of the fringe parties. Unfortunately the conduct of a minority of people in all political parties has convinced large sections of the public that no politicians can be trusted, and this in turn has had two damaging effects. The first is that maligning the integrity of your political opponents has become a routine part of politics. Sadly, nobody should stand for election to public office in the present climate unless you are prepared to cope with the possibility that at some stage you will be falsely accused of corruption.

Sustainable Procurement

A number of large companies have signed a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to give a minister responsibility for sustainable procurement. The letter follows on from a report by the government’s Sustainable Procurement Task Force and the signatory companies include BT, Carillion, KPMG, Vodafone, Redfern Travel and Willmott Dixon. The signatories “firmly believe that sustainable procurement is essential for the future prosperity of the country and that it is wholly compatible with running a successful country and business in today’s world”. The letter also says the procurement activities of the public sector are “a significant and effective but currently sadly under-utilised tool” which could be used for meeting the government’s sustainable development aims. It asks that the PM “appoint a Minister to drive forward sustainable procurement within our sectors”. The signatories commit to actively supporting the government in developing and improving sustainable procurement methods wit

Read Bryan Appleyard in today's Sunday Times

If you possibly can, get hold of a copy of today's Sunday Times Magazine and read the article "The last Refuge" by Bryan Appleyard. It is the best article I have ever read describing the current debate about the environment. If you can't get a copy of the "dead tree" version of the paper the article is also available on their website. Some of it is a bit tongue in cheek - the front cover of the magazine shows a family wearing only white, in front of their white painted house, car, etc - the idea being to raise the planet's albedo by making as many things white as possible so that heat will be reflecte out to space. The article explains this, and than makes clear that "Albedo chic" is a humorous "thought experiment" invented by the SF writer Gregory Benford to get people thinking about what we need to do. The article crams a host of ideas and concepts into relatively few pages. He places environmentalists on s spectrum from the "S

Book Review: History of the Peloponnesian War

I have read two things today which I strongly recommend. One described a current set of problem and the other covered a set of events nearly two and a half thousand years ago, but both are very relevant today. The first was Bryan Appleyard's superb assessment of the climate change debate for which see my next post. But I have also been reading Thucydides "The History of the Peloponnesian War". So why am I risking my street cred by plugging a book written more than 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ ? Who do I think would benefit by reading this book? Anyone who wants to understand how free societies can descend into tyranny - Anyone who does not realise that merely holding free elections is not enough to preserve a society worth living in, especially if you don't combine democracy with the rule of law - Anyone who needs to understand how two or more nations can stumble into a war devastating to both - Anyone who imagines that genocide and ethnic cleansing were

Well done, Adam

One unfortunate feature of the debate within and outside the Conservative party about the "A list" is that far too much of it has consisted of unfair attacks on individuals. Incidentally, the official description is that there is no definitive "A-list" as such, but that the Conservative party has one list of "approved candidates" within which some people are currently "priority candidates". Local constituency Conservative parties can interview anyone they ask to interview and select whoever they wish to pick, although in practice it appears that target seats are strongly encouraged to pick either a "priority candidate" or someone they regard as having genuine local connections (and the days when that could mean that your father rented a house in the constituency fifty years ago are gone.) I have been told clearly and unequivocally that although all priority candidates are among the "brightest and best" the party has to offer,

Brown comes out for Nuclear Power

One of the major question marks about the future of nuclear power was removed yesterday when Gordon Brown came out in support. Given that the present Prime Minister has already indicated his support for new nuclear build it is now fairly clear which way the government's energy review will go. Blair and Brown will probably face further criticism for pre-empting the current energy review, and there is some justice in that, but as someone who is convinced that this country needs a balanced energy policy which includes a role for nuclear power, I am pleased that there is no longer much danger that a change in the Labour leadership could pose a threat to plans for new nuclear build. When the Conservative energy review comes out, I hope that the government will be able to work for a cross-party consensus between the two main parties for a new energy policy, so that potential investors will not have to fear losing their money in a government U-turn. Just to emphasise the point, to achieve

Acronym competition - the winning entries

A number of good entries, including. ODPM = OverDevelopment to Prescott Mandate LDD = Lots of Development Directed (instead of Local Development Document RSS = Really Stupid System (instead of Regional Spatial Strategy) SPD = Stupid Prescott Document (instead of Supplementary Planning Document) SCI = Stifle Cumbrian Investment (instead of Statement of Community Involvement – a reference to the fact that Prescott’s “The Northern Way” strategy document made virtually no reference to Cumbria.) However, I chose two joint winners from different ends of the country. This was to reflecting the fact that micromanagement by John Prescott’s department took different forms all over the country, but the one common factor is that he always thought he knew what was best for a local area than the people who lived there, and he was always wrong. In some places he forced far too much development, more than was wanted by locally elected councillors of all parties: in other places he forced local authori

Oh would some power the giftie gie us ...

"Oh would some power the giftie gie us, To see ourselves as others see us." Last week there was a terrible day when about forty people were killed in Iraq. I read about it in two different broadsheet newspapers, both of which are published round the world and influence how other countries see Britain. In each case you had to read at least three inches into the small print of the front page to learn that forty people in total had been killed. But four of the forty were Brits - two soldiers and two British employees of a US Television crew. And their deaths were announced at the top of the front pages in big headlines - using a font in which letters probably covered twenty times the area of those used to record the deaths or ordinary Iraqi victims. Let me make clear what I am and am not saying. As John Donne put it, every man's death diminishes me. Each one of those forty deaths meant an evil murder, a bereaved family, and a personal tragedy. I do not critise those newspape

Prescott Memorial Acronym Competition

Sorting through the entries for this. I quite like RSS = Really Stupid System (it is supposed to mean Regional Spacial Strategy) An entry from Cumbria: NWRA = Now We're Really Abandoned (instead of North West Regional Assembly An entry from Hertfordshire EEDA = Extreme and Excessive Development Allowed (instead of East of England Development Agency) Decision soon

Gaffe or Truth ?

One of the more unfortunate consequences of adversarial politics is that when a politician is brave enough to say something true, especially if it is also politically inconvenient, there is a good chance that everyone in the media and other parties will start shouting “Gaffe!” and implying that the person who told the truth was stupid. The great cartoonist HM Bateman used to draw pictures showing everyone in a large room staring in fury or delight at an embarrased person who has just made a humiliating mistake. These cartoons had titles like "The diplomat who said that his country would pay" and "The subaltern who took the Colonel's biscuit." To the best of my knowledge he never did one called "The MP who told the truth!" but the way some people think he certainly could have. So I would like to salute a Labour MP, Gisela Stuart, for telling the truth about a number of issues on which the official propaganda machine of her party has been putting out a

From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success

You know how sometimes a catchy tune gets “stuck” in your head and you find yourself thinking it or humming aloud for days at a time ? For the past couple of days I’ve been unable to stop myself thinking of a song from the film version of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” Tim Ireland has done some political cartoon sequences with musical accompaniment for the website (both the website title and much of the material on the site is highly ironic). He doesn’t take prisoners. Previous examples include a mock “Don’t vote Labour” PPB using the theme music from the old TV comedy “The Goodies” as backing, which he followed with an alternative version of Labour’s “Dave the Chameleon” broadcast. His most recent comedy video, with the soundtrack of “The Roses of Success” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, shows animated New Labour roses singing the song. (I think the mouth with which each rose sings is supposed to be Tony Blair’s mouth.) The lyrics represent a group of mad scientists who

Is Jedi Jamie following in the footsteps of Junket Jack ?

The MP for Copeland Jamie Reed, is reported in the Telegraph to have made a trip to America as a guest of one of the companies bidding to take over BNFL. The trip was properly declared in the Register of Members’ interests in accordance with the rules. A few days after his return, Mr Reed, nicknamed “Jedi Jamie” after a foolish joke about being the first Jedi MP in his maiden speech, attacked two of the rival potential bidders in the House of Commons. I have been discussing this with colleagues in Copeland. I don’t think it wrong per se for an MP to make fact-finding visits, properly declared. However, it is very important to make an effort not to give the impression of partiality, especially at this early stage, and perhaps he needs to consider this point carefully. If one of the bidders who have been criticised by the local MP using parliamentary privilege were to be successful, it might reduce his influence with the new operator in future and hence his ability to lobby on behalf of