Showing posts from September, 2006

An ethics policy that works

One of the biggest challenges facing whoever forms the next government will be to rebuild public confidence in the integrity of those involved in politics. The majority of people in all three political parties are honest. But the minority who are not have done a huge amount of damage and everyone involved in public life has been tarred with the same brush. During the last Conservative government, a few ministers and MPs who fell short of the high standards we should expect of ourselves gave the whole party a reputation for sleaze. And under the present government, elected on the promise to be "Whiter that White", the level of sleaze has been much worse - not least because most of it leads back to people close to the Prime Minister. I'm taking for granted that most people reading this will agree that the present government is far less ethical than its Tory or Labour predecessors going back at least 40 years: if you don't share that view please feel free to post a comme

Book Review: The Audit of War by Correlli Barnett

I have been re-reading Correlli Barnett's 1986 classic work of modern history, "The Audit of War" The title of this book is a little confusing: it seeks to find causes in the conduct of British policy up to and including the end of the second world war to explain the collapse of Britain's superpower status after that war. "The Audit or War" opens with the statement that the purpose of the book is an operational study "to uncover the causes of Britain's protracted decline as an industrial country since the second world war." Many of the policies Barnett criticises were developed over the preceding century or even further back. There are two possible reasons why someone might want to read this book. The first would be to learn something from the ideas Barnett puts forward. You do not have to agree with everything in his thesis about the problems with Education and Training in Britain from the 19th century onwards, and consequent failures of leade

Two Goodbyes

The front pages of the national papers today are all plastered with Tony Blair's valedictory speech to Labour Party conference. The local daily paper in Cumbria has the even larger headline "Ambulance HQ faces axe" about proposals to take away Cumbria's 999 response centre and deal with 999 calls from the county at the call centre in Lancashire. If you were to ask residents of Cumbria which departure they will regret more - Tony Blair or our own 999 response unit - I bet I can guess which would get most votes. As an incomer who has now been here two years I can attest that it takes a while to learn and understand the routes around Cumbria, where places are, and how some of the place names are pronounced, even if you are living here. I think that there is a good case that having emergency calls answered by Cumbrians will sometimes facilitate a quicker and more effective response - and time can save lives. This issue applies to both ambulances and fire engines, about wh

A level marking

I have had my concerns about whether the A level and other exams are "Fit for purpose" in terms of admission to Universities. I have always accepted that those who get good grades have worked hard for them and should be congratulated, and I stand by that. Nevertheless it is strange that there should have been an increase in the proportion of good grades which seems to exceed and reasonable view of the rate at which standards may have increased. It is particulaly interesting that the same substantial increase in grades does not appear to have occurred in the USA. As the United States has had many of the same social trends including attempts to increase educational performance that we have, one has to ask, is it really possible that that standards could have risen greatly on this side of the Atlantic and not on the other ? If the different trends in grades reflect a real difference in educational performance, what has caused it and what can we learn from it ? If they do not, th

More Labour Sleaze

In the last few days Lord Levy, the Prime Minister's principal fundraiser, had had further conversations with police about the "Cash for peerages" row and another wealthy Labour donor, Christopher Evans, has been arrested. By all accounts he is furious with the Labour party for landing him in this position. There are also questions about the funding of other political parties, though those affecting the Labour party are far and away the most serious. This is going to cause a collapse in funding for political parties which will be a real problem, not just for Labour, but for Britain. Wealthy people who might once have given money to the political party they support for honest motives are just not going to want to risk being accused of corruption. I don't think it adds anything to the effectiveness of democracy to spend the vast sums of money which is associated with political campaigning in America. However, it does cost a few million a year to operate and maintain a r

Digital TV switchover

For people reading this who live in Copeland and watch television: this will affect you in October 2007 when the existing TV signal for most of the borough is switched off. Anyone reading this in the rest of the UK: this will still affect you within the next few years when the change reaches your area. The government and broadcasters have decided to switch everyone over from the original "analogue" TV signal to a new "digital" system. The Whitehaven TV area will be the first part of the country affected when the analogue TV signal is replaced over the next few years. A meeting was organised in Whitehaven Civic Hall on Thursday to describe how this will happen. The process is being managed by a company called Digital UK. When they refer to the "Whitehaven TV area", they mean a much wider area than local residents usually understand by the name "Whitehaven - it actually covers the great majority of Copeland. Small areas around Parton and St Bees are cov

Pensions – An inevitable change finally happens

Yesterday a change which I have been expecting for 20 years was finally announced. When left University in 1985, I was determined to ensure that from my first proper job I would have appropriate pensions provision. To anyone with even a limited understanding of economics and demographics, it was already obvious that by the time I reached retiring age some forty years later, the funding of pensions was likely to be a huge problem. Even in the mid 1980’s the combination of increasing life expectancy and gradually declining birth rates over the previous 20 years made it apparent that in the first two decades of the 21st century, the share of the UK population of traditional working age would dramatically reduce while the proportion of traditional retirement age would dramatically increase. Providing everyone with a generous state pension was obviously going to become impossible unless taxes went up dramatically, saving was increased, or retirement age went up. So on starting work, I read

Digital TV Public Meeting this Thursday

The public meeting about the switchover to Digital TV, which will happen in the Whitehaven area before anywhere else in the country, is at 6.30pm this Thursday in the Civic Hall, Lowther Street, Whitehaven. I hope there will be a good attendance, for two reasons. First, we all need to know how the experts think this is going to affect us in plenty of time. Those who leave it too late to check whether their TV etc are compatible with the new digital signal may find themselves in the same position as those who didn't realise in good time that child car seats would become a legal requirement yesterday. Surprise surprise - there has been a last minute rush for car seats and apparently many shops have sold out of them. The other reason I hope there will be a good attendance on Thursday is that if the powers that be see from a packed civic hall that many local residents are watching to see that this is done right, they may make more effort to deal with the concerns raised. That might hel

£500 fine from Monday if you don't use a child seat ...

Any parents of a child under 12 who has not picked this up - and my impression is that many people have not - should be aware that from Monday a new law comes into effect. If you transport a child under 12 in a car without a properly fitting car seat, or appropriate booster cushion, you may be risking a £30 fixed penalty notice. If a case gets to court you get be fined £500. There are certain exceptions, which are even less well known than the fact that the law has been brought in. As with so much of the nanny state legislation introduced by this government, you can see the point but have to ask whether passing yet another law is the best way to deal with it. Passing a law and not publicising it properly strikes me as particularly stupid. If the police bother to enforce the new law (and I would have found that condition unthinkable nine years ago), it's a safe bet that those parents who first find out about the law when they get a £30 penalty notice for breaking it will be given a

Resign !

This morning's Times alleges that "A secret meeting has been held by ministers and Labour party officials to work out ways of closing hospitals without jeopardising key marginal seats." Leaked emails sent to the Times and to the BBC show that a meeting attended by Patricia Hewitt and government advisers to discuss the impact of hospital closures was also attended by Hazel Blears, Chairman of the Labour party and, at Hazel Blear's request, by a Labour party representative. If this is true, Ms Hewitt and Ms Blears must provide the House of Commons with the minutes of the meeting and explain to parliament why they proposed and agreed respectively that a Labour party representative should be present. Unless they can demonstrate that party political considerations have not been allowed to change health service plans drawn up on medical grounds, Patricia Hewitt and Hazel Blears should resign from the government. The BBC comprehensively missed the point this lunchtime, over

Five years on

I am sure that most people can remember what they were doing five years ago today when they heard that the twin towers had been attacked. I was at the local doctor's surgery where my son and daughter, then a few months old, had just had an injection. Such is the freight of meaning now associated with the date that today at work when I was writing up the minutes of a meeting, just writing the date "September 11th" seemed somehow creepy. Because of the host of criticisms, some of them justified, which have been made about the conduct of the "War on Terror" in general and the invasion of Iraq in particular, it is usually all too easy to forget how it started - but not today. Even without the flood of material on the television, we are thrown back to remembrance of the most murderous and treacherous attack since Pearl Harbour. In the years since Iraq was invaded, it has become commonplace for apologists for terror to use US or British foreign policy as a justificati

Judging John Prescott "on the job"

Remember a few weeks ago when John Prescott asked to be judged by his performance "on the job?" By an amusing chance, a couple of months after this comment, we arrive at the set assessment date for a challenge he previously set himself. Five years ago, when in charge of a department which included transport, John Prescott set a criteria for assessing his success "on the job." He announced that if, within five years, there were not many more journeys by public transport, he would have failed. Well, we've now had the figures for the change in journey numbers by car over that five year period. And they show that, on his own terms, Prescott has indeed failed. When the Prime Minister came back from holiday, he announced his new idea of targetting toddlers who may grow up to become problem individuals - at one point in a TV interview he suggested that potential problem children might be identified even before birth. More about this later in the week, but I had to laug

Comments Policy on this blog

Anyone with a presence on the internet which allows comments or response eventually has problems with SPAM, or with silly or offensive posts. The vast majority of posts on this blog have been interesting and welcome. That includes posts expressing views which differ from mine. I am grateful to anyone who posts interesting opinions on this site, whether right-wing or left wing and regardless of whether I agree with them, provided they are reasonably polite. I would prefer that you use your real name but anonymous posts will not be deleted as long as they are polite and constructive. However, I have had a small number of comments posted on this blog from people who have nothing better to do with their time than to put up anonymous insults. I do have better things to do with my time than read rude remarks from people who have nothing constructive to say and don't have the guts to sign their own name. This blog is here to publish and promote debate on views which I consider useful and

West Cumberland Hospital

Yet another story this week expressing fear for the future of local hospital services in West Cumbria. Another week, another doctor retires and expresses concern. Dr Tim Eyre, a consultant radiologist, has left West Cumberland Hospital after 19 years, for Nobles Hospital in the Isle of Man. In a letter to The Whitehaven News he says he fears for the future of his former colleagues and the future of the West Cumberland Hospital. The full letter is very well worth reading, however briefly he gave the following reasons for leaving · The Chief Executive went back on her word after promising a college review of radiology services over two years ago · Radiology empire building in Carlisle continues with three new appointments while any discussion of expansion merely to cope with ever increasing work load at West Cumberland is ignored by management. · Training and recruitment of radiological staff in some areas has been neglected · We were without basic fluoroscopy services for over a year

The Longer Goodbye

Today Tony Blair, while still refusing to give a precise date when he will stand down as Labour leader and PM, indicated that it will be within 12 months. Making sense of all the stories about what is going on in the government is difficult, but several things are obvious. The first is that the row over when Tony Blair should step down has not been manufactured by the press. There is no way that eight Labour MPs would resign from government jobs, forfeiting all hope of preferment while Blair remains PM, unless there was a real power struggle going on. The second is that, just as internal infighting damaged the last government and contributed to the election of the present one, it is difficult to see how the sight of Labour MPs stabbing each other in the back can do other than further damage the reputation of the government and very possibly of politics generally. You might expect that politicians of all parties would have learnt this lesson but it appears not. Perhaps this is furth

Book review: Dirty Politics, Dirty Times

“Dirty politics, Dirty Times – my fight with Wapping and New Labour” Author: Michael Ashcroft Published by Politico’s Media, ISBN: 1904734111 This is Lord Ashcroft's readable and interesting autobiography, which concentrates on giving his side of the attempts to blacken his reputation by an unholy alliance of New Labour spin-doctors seeking to damage the Conservative Party and Times Newspaper journalists seeking to create a story. One of the worst legacies of the last fifteen years or so has been the extent that British politics and public life has become dominated by the tactics of personal destruction. Sadly, attacking the personal integrity of people who disagree with you or who are your rivals for office has become a routine political tactic. The New Labour leadership have probably been the worst offenders from even before they were running the country, but they are far from being the only ones, and this book sheds an interesting light on how much some parts of the press have t