Sunday, October 31, 2010

The last change to GMT ?

The clocks went back an hour today prompting the usual range of press speculation about whether we ought either to make British Summer Time permanent or go back to the wartime practice of having the clocks an hour ahead in winter and two hours in summer. So should today be the last change to GMT?

Although I appreciate it is much harder to get people to shift behaviour and habits than to fiddle with the clocks, and would cost more, (e.g. printing new timetables, opening hour signs, etc if we were ever really serious about getting people to get more benefit from the hours of daylight, it would be a more effective and appropriate way to address the issue.

E.g. the day after a change from BST to GMT you would insist that schools opened at 8 am rather than 9am, the evening news went back from 10pm to 9pm and so on: in terms of when we actually did everything it would be exactly the same as the previous week but the times would be stated an hour earlier.

Then six months later, when the clocks went forward again, the time shift that some people are always campaigning for would take place.

The rules would have to be carefully written to encourage most people to make the time shift while leaving room for exceptions (e.g. so that those who are strongly opposed to doing things earlier could move their timetables back again after six months if they really insist.) You'd probably pass an enabling act which says that all timetables must be automatically assumed to be adjusted by an hour on the relevant date unless the organisation concerned gives special notice to the contrary.

I'm not campaigning for this and I don't think it will happen. But if we ever really wanted to shift the time we do things, that would be a better way than fiddling with the clocks.

Harriet Harman puts her foot in it

Harriet Harman MP, former acting leader of the Labour party, has described Lib/Dem cabinet minister Danny Alexander as a "ginger rodent".

This prompted Mike Smithson of political betting, not a man who with whom I associate words like 'fury' to ask "Has Labour's hate campaign gone too far?" and comment

"As the father of two children who were bullied at school because of their ginger hair I am beside myself with fury at Harriet Harman’s nasty attack on Danny Alexander as being a “ginger rodent”.

By all means get into an argument on the issues but to use an inherited bodily characteristic to attack someone smacks of racism - which is even more outrageous given Harriet’s record in the equality area."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Nuclear Strategy consultation

Also on the subject of the NDA, there was a workshop in Cleator Moor on Tuesday to inform Copeland BC's response to the Nuclear Decomissioning Authority's draft stratgegy consultation.

That consultation started on 1 September and will close on 24 November 2010.

You can read about it, and submit your own views online, on the NDA website here.

NDA welcomes funding settlement

The NDA have a statement up on their website which you can read here, and which welcomes the annoucement in the Chancellor's statement last week of the funding settlement for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority over the next four years.

Essentially the government recognised the nuclear cleanup is a national priority and largely protected this area from the cuts - which also happens to be very good news for Copeland. Together with projected commercial income, the settlement will ensure that total expenditure by the NDA will be maintained at current levels of around £3billion a year.

The statement includes the following quote by Tony Fountain, NDA's CEO:

"I welcome the funding settlement announced today as it recognises the importance the Government allocates to the decommissioning agenda. We will be able to fund a very significant, targeted, programme of work to manage the UK's nuclear legacy. Clearly, our funding is not unlimited and we will need to look at how we prioritise our expenditure. We need to continue to pursue commercial income aggressively and drive increased efficiencies across the estate. Laying out these choices and how we intend to allocate funds across our sites will be presented in our forthcoming Draft Business Plan in early December".

The price of speaking out

Britain used to be a society which understood what Voltaire was getting at when he said "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Within reason and the law, obviously - there is and should be a law of libel, and as another famous saying has it, freedom of speech does not confer the right to shout "Fire" in a crowded space (unless there really is one.)

But freedom to express controversial opinions does not seem to be what it was, as the case of Katharine Birbalsingh demonstrates all too well.

I was in the conference hall for the speech about education at Conservative party conference by Ms Birbalsingh, who at the time was a deputy headteacher working in a school supported by the diocese of Southwark.

Her speech was passionate and controversial, along the same lines as the Melanie Phillips argument. (She used the line "All Must Have Prizes," which is the title of Ms Phillips' book, early in the speech.)

My experience as someone who has been a governor of three schools over the past 23 years, has two school age children, and has met a fair number of teachers either because of one of those two things or through my political activities, is that it would not be hard to find either people involved in education who strongly disagree with her comments, or other teachers and governors who equally strongly agree with her. My late mother was a teacher for the whole of her working life, and I'm pretty certain that if she had been alive and in the hall she would have jumped up and cheered at the end of the speech.

I don't believe the generalisations in which Ms Birbalsingh spoke apply to every teacher or every school, but neither do I think she meant them to be taken as doing so. And I think there was enough truth in her opinions that we try to suppress those ideas at our peril.

Although she took no prisoners in her criticisms of many ideas which are popular in education in general, I didn't hear her attack a single individual colleague. She had permission from the parents of all the children whose photographs she used. Her speech did not identify either the school where she had recently started work, nor that where she previously worked, and there was nothing in the speech which could remotely be described as actionable.

I do not accept that any reasonable person who heard the speech, as I did, and who supports free speech within the law, could possibly believe that any part of that speech justified disciplinary action of any kind. Judge for yourself here.

So I was utterly horrified when I heard that she had been sent home, and that the suggestion was being made that she had brough her school into disrepute.

The Diocese of Southwark denied that they had suspended Ms Birbalsingh, stating that she was being asked to "work at home" for a few days while the matter was being addressed. In one of the most hypocritical, weasel-worded statements I have read which purported to be issued on behalf of what is supposed to be a Christian organisation, they justified this by saying that they were concerned that "the position of the academy" (e.g. the school where she worked) "should not be misrepresented".

Nobody in their right mind who had seen the speech could possibly imagine that Katharine Birbalsingh was claiming to speak on behalf of the academy, which as I have said, she did not name, or to be expressing anything other than her own personal views, or that those views in the main were specifically about her current school given that she had been teaching for many years but had only just started at that school.

A couple of weeks later she left the school, in circumstances which the BBC described as "unclear." At no point have I seen in the press that either the Diocese of Southwark, or the school, has given any justification for sending her home which holds water for twenty seconds.

Cranmer's blog has his take on the story here,
illustrated by a picture of the head teacher of the school standing next to Tony Blair. "Cranmer" argues that it should not have been Ms Birbalsingh who resigned but those responsible for the way she was treated. And frankly, if the facts are as he describes them, he has a case.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Road Closures at Cleator Moor and Whitehaven

Another set of road closures in West Cumbria: one set of closures at Cleator Moor high street is causing diversions and affecting traffic flows all over central and North Copeland, and affecting public transport.

There is also a road closure at Albion Street in Whitehaven where Copeland Council is undertaking emergency work on two buildings which have been designated as dangerous structures. The Dusty Miller and Hanratty's will be open as normal during the works.

Liam Murphy RIP

Former Copeland Council CEO Liam Murphy died yesterday morning from cancer at the age of 46, leaving a widow and three children.

I didn't always agree with Liam, but during his tragically brief period at Copeland before retiring because of the illness which was to kill him, I felt that he did make a real effort to shake up the culture and improve the effectiveness of the council.

Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.

Rest in Peace

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Polling Station Review

I attended the first meeting yesterday of a Copeland Council "Improvement Group" which is reviewing the siting and effectiveness of the polling stations for elections in the Borough.

We agreed that as part of the exercise we should consult the public. Details of this will appear on the council website and in the local press very soon. In the meantime, anyone who has a view on the suitability of polling stations in Copeland at recent elections (including any gaps in coverage) is encouraged to write to Jessica Hall at Copeland Council centre, Catherine Street, Whitehaven.

The review has to be completed by January.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What the papers say, continued

Hat-tip to Mike Smithson at "Political Betting" for pointing out some more interesting press responses to the CSR.

Simon Hoggart in the Guardian wrote here that: “Labour has, on the whole, decided that the deficit isn’t its fault. It has, you would imagine, been invented by the Tories purely in order to allow them the cuts which they are imposing with an odious relish.”

Andrew Rawnley is on the same lines in yesterday’s Observer, here, when he writes

“Labour’s attacks on the government have so far failed to gain traction. The new shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson, will not get a serious hearing for Labour’s arguments until his party has restored its own economic credibility and that can’t start to happen until the opposition’s spokesmen and women stop sounding like people living in a fantasy universe in which there is no deficit to address and a Labour chancellor would have been able to announce free holidays in Barbados all round.”

Rawnsley - who, remember, used to be very close to New Labour - continues

"The thrust of Labour's response has been to accuse the coalition of pillaging public spending because they are activated by a Tory lust to eviscerate the state. 'This was a spending review driven by ideology,' says Ed Miliband.


"I'm doubtful that this line of attack from Labour will work. For the charge to stick, Labour needs David Cameron and Nick Clegg to look like ideological crazies and, whatever Labour may wish, the prime minister and his Lib Dem partner simply don't come over that way.

"Nor does the evidence support the Labour critique. The great squeeze will reduce public spending from its current level of 48% of GDP to about 41% by 2014-2015. That is above, not below, the postwar average for Britain. It is fairly typical of a European welfare state. Spending will fall to about the same proportion of GDP as in 2007-08 when Ed Miliband was a senior aide at the Treasury to Gordon Brown. In cash terms, at the end of the four years, the government will be spending 6% more than it does now. In real terms, the coalition will be spending more than when New Labour came to power in 1997.

"That won't be much solace to anyone who relies on a public service that is going to be reduced nor to anyone working for the government who is fearful of losing their position. The forecast job losses in the public sector are 490,000 over four years. That is a big number, there's no doubt about it. But even if every one of those jobs does disappear, the state will still be employing about 200,000 more people than it was when Labour came to power.

"I wish Labour luck in trying to paint Dave'n'Nick as the evil twin brothers of Sarah Palin. They will need luck because the facts don't support the argument."

I'm going to stick my neck out and make a bold prediction. No matter how unpopular the coalition gets, Labour will not again win a majority at a General Election until they have convinced middle Britain that they understand what they did wrong and are determined not to repeat the mistake.

Last time a Labour government lost power, they didn't get back for over a decade, until Tony Blair convinced middle Britain that Labouir had learned the lesson that unresticted union power combined with tax rates of up to 98 pence in the pound were a really bad idea.

Similarly, the Conservatives didn't begin to really recover support after 1997 until David Cameron convinced people that we were not just saying that we had learned from our mistakes in government but meant it, and were determined not to repeat them.

And I don't believe Labour will be elected again until they convince middle Britain that they really understand that doubling the National Debt and letting the deficit reach one pound in four of government spending was a REALLY bad idea and will not be repeated if they get back in.

On the basis of this week, Labour are not only failing to convince the middle ground that they get this, they're failing to convince their intelligent friends in the media, and I see little sign that they've convinced themselves.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Phantom of New Labour Debt

Above: Sarah Brightman and Steve Harley in the music video trailer for the original stage version of "The Phantom of the Opera."

Alternative words for 2010, about how the gigantic debts Labour left behind are driving the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR):

"Beneath the CSR, I know he's there,
In each department's pains, he's everywhere
And as the cuts begin, I always find
The Phantom of New Labour Debt is there, these cuts behind."

"As Dave and Nick begin their strange duet,
The harm that Gordo did grows clearer yet,
Who'll give their votes to Ed, their love is blind,
The Phantom of New Labour Debt is now, these cuts behind."

"Those who have seen the books, draw back in fear,
Red ink the mask you wear"
(Steve) "Bankruptcy near",
(both together)
"Blair and Brown's legacy, in one combined,
A Trillion pounds of debt, a deficit to blow your mind."

(Chorus in background)
"Borr'wing 140 billion pounds a year, Borr'wing 140 billion pounds a year"

(Concluding repeat)
"Sing, Dave and Nick again, your strange duet,
To pay off Gordon's debts, will cost more yet,
Who'll give their votes to Ed, their love is blind,
The Phantom of New Labour Debt is now, these cuts behind."

(Sarah repeats "He's there, the phantom of New Labour debt", Steve tells her to sing and then cuts down the chandelier, etc, etc ...)

For the avoidance of doubt, the point of the joke is to suggest that Labour's debt mountain underlies everything that is happening at the moment, not that it isn't real.

What the Papers Say

The Independent, one of the newspapers usually closer to Labour, asked today "Where is the Labour alternative?"

The article will not have made good reading for Red Ed or Alan Johnson. It begins

"On Wednesday, George Osborne's Comprehensive Spending Review laid out the most drastic fiscal consolidation since the Second World War. It was, therefore, a golden opportunity for the Opposition to propose an alternative approach to Britain's economic predicament. But Labour's response fell flat."

The Independent leader article continued that "the party's new leader, Ed Miliband, said he would not oppose every cut announced by the Coalition. He was right to do so. The price of economic credibility is support for policies that, though unpopular, are necessary for the country's long-term economic health. Labour would have had to cut public spending too if the party had won May's election."

They concluded that Labour appeared to have delegated the job of opposing the government to the Institute for Fiscal Studies."

The Economist's front page headline said simply "Ouch!" They argued that "George Osborne’s austerity programme is justified, but the government should be bolder in redesigning the British state."

The Economist's detailed argument is that

"On balance, Mr Osborne is still right that the economic risks of not decisively tackling the deficit outweigh the risk of doing so."


"Many of the government’s specific decisions are sensible too."

Their main criticism is that the government has honoured the election promise to protect the NHS budget in money and real terms.

I don't agree with that criticism. We have an aging population in which the demand for Health services is rising steeply and it was not an unreasonable decision to make the NHS the top priority.

And even if it had not been the right decision on its merits, I don't think the Conservatives could have been elected without the promise to protect the NHS budget or would be forgiven by the voters if we broke that promise.

The comments on the spending review of The Economist and the press in general could be summarised in the words the magazine used of the defence review: that the coalition government has made a "reasonable fist" of a rotten situation.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

As the dust settles

Nobody goes into politics to carry out the sort of measures which the Chancellor had to announce yesterday

Cuts on the scale which had to be made to clear up Labour's mess cannot be made without causing real pain to nearly everyone in society, including some of the less fortunate. That is no cause for celebration.

But the fact remains, that borrowing one pound in every four you spend is simply not possible. Governments have more flexibilty about how much they borrow and spend than an ordinary household but there are limits to what they can get away with for any length of time, and the fiscal position which this government inherited was way outside them.

There is no way that any responsible governnment - which the present one is, and the last one was not - could have avoided either heavy tax increases, severe spending cuts, or both.

Nobody will have liked most of the measures announced yesterday. But anyone who criticises them has to say what they would cut instead, of how they would raise taxes instead.

From the letters pages of today's Whitehaven News


– At the recent meeting of the full Copeland Borough Council, amid the political point scoring (from the Labour benches in particular), the leader, Coun Elaine Woodburn, referred to one of my members as an “alleged member of the public.” I wonder if the leader would like to clarify Copeland Borough Council’s definition of ‘member of the public’ and enlighten us as to when it was altered to exclude members of the Conservative Party?


Deputy Chairman, Copeland Conservative Association
Hillcrest, Whitehaven

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Labour can't get their lies straight

One of the things which least impressed me about Labour's response to the difficult measures today was the expression on Red Ed's face when the chancellor announced that the government had actually accepted one of the requests from the opposition, limiting the extent of the cuts to hit any one department. He could not hide his disappointment.

But I also noticed that Alan Johnson, the Shadow Chancellor, made a comment diametrically opposed to one particular fairy story which Labour's Jamie Reed put in just about every piece of propaganda they issued in Copeland during the run-up to the last election.

Jamie Reed alleged that the Conservatives had voted against every penny of government investment in West Cumbria.

Yet today, Alan Johnson said that the Conservatives had SUPPORTED "Every penny of our spending plans" up to 2007.

I don't actually accept that either of these statements gives a fair picture of the Conservative position. But what is indisputable is that Jamie Reed and Alan Johnson cannot both have been telling the truth.

When the shadow chancellor says that the Conservatives supported every penny of Labour investment and the MP for Copeland had said that the Conservatives opposed every penny of Labour investment, you could argue that they were both wrong (and I would) but you cannot argue that they were both right.

Superfast broadband in Cumbria's rural areas

Also in the Chancellor's speech, Cumbria will be one of the areas to benefit from a pilot scheme to extend superfast broadband to rural areas

More money for Schools

The Chancellor has confirmed that spending on schools will rise in real terms every year for the next few years. Surestart programmes will also be protected in cash terms.

Although the BSF programme has been scrapped, this does not mean that there will be no new school building: the chancellor said that six hundred schools will benefit from investment in new or improved buildings.

West Cumberland Rebuild/Refurbishment safe

I was delighted while watching the Chancellor's statement today, in which he announced some very difficult decisions to tackle the government deficit, that he specifically confirmed that the West Cumberland Hospital rebuild and refurbishment will go ahead. (This was one of three hospital rebuild programmes mentioned in the speech.)

He also confirmed that total NHS spending is being protected from the cuts and will increase be more than inflation every year in this parliament.

The cost of Labour's Failure

When I am asked why Conservative governments are unpopular, I usually answer "Because they've had to do unpleasant things to clear up the mess left by Labour governments."

Today the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition will have to dish out one of the most painful doses of medicine ever inflicted by a British government in order to clear up the worst mess ever left behind by a former British government.

National Debt doubled - the last Labour government borrowed more than every previous government in history put together

The worst deficit ever left by a British government - this year HMG will borrow £140 billion, more than Britain spends on the NHS

More interest to pay on the national debt - £25 billion a year, more than Britain spends on schools, not to pay back the debt but just to service the interest on it. And if we don't get a grip that amount will keep on going up.

This situation cannot be allowed to continue: failure to take firm action now would condemn us to the sort of meltdown which has happened to Greece.

The government will be forced to announce today measures which nobody likes and things which no politican, least of all David Cameron, wants to do.

But everyone who is hurt by one of the measures announced today should remember the identity of the real culprit, the man who inherited a golden economic legacy of a full treasury and strong non-inflationary growth, but whose whose catastrophic failure to keep borrowing and spending under control over thirteen years made today's pain inevitable.

Gordon Brown.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Labour and Ruddigore

Having had to listen to a whole host of silly political questions from Labour at Copeland Council last week, none of which made it into the local papers, I was taken by a reference on Political Betting comparing Labour's current opinions to the G&S Opera Ruddigore in which the main characters admit that their opinions are irrelevant in a trio with the chorus line "It really doesn't matter" which includes phrases like

"If I were not a little mad and generally silly
I would give you my opinions on the subject willy nilly ... "

The political betting posc concerned referred to this link to Spitting Image's portrayal of the Labour G&S Society under Neil Kinnock, the "Red Ed" of the 1980s, performing their version of Ruddigore, with Neil K singing, almost too fast to make out (which is part of the joke). For those who can't quite hear it, the words (a very close parody of the original) are

"My eyes are fully open to my awful situation
I'm increasingly unable to conceal my desperation
If you ask what I believe in I have simply no idea
Which is why I'm rather given to this verbal diarrhoea

What I'd really like to do is go back home & have a cuppa
'Cause I know that Mrs Thatcher's gonna have me for her supper
My economic policy's as mad as any hatter
But I'll never be elected so it really doesn't matter"

(Chorus of Labour frontbenchers singing

"No it really doesn't matter
No it really doesn't matter
No it really doesn't matter
No it really doesn't matter

Our economic policy's as mad as any hatter
But we'll never be elected so it really doesn't matter
matter, matter, matter, matter")

Verse two:

"I tread the road of socialism firmly down the middle
In the hope that I will die a very decent individdle
My philosophy of life is like the sound of one hand clapping
But try to find the content when I offer you the wrapping

I do not see the point of saying something controversial
When I'd rather get Drew Hudson to direct a new commercial
I've been packaged and presented like a foaming glass of Guinness
And I'll say what I believe in when I've had a word with Glenys


Verse three

"The Labour Party lumbers me with complicated cases
Such as whether I intend to close down all those U.S. bases
But then even my opponents all agree that I am charming
Which is quite the only sense in which you'll find that I'm disarming

And when I'm making speeches I am desperately praying
That there's somebody who'll tell me what on earth it is I'm saying
My particularly rapid unintelligible pratter
Isn't generally heard and if it is it doesn't matter"


Coming later this week - "The Phantom of New Labour's Debt" to the tune of "The Phantom of the Opera" ...

Monday, October 18, 2010

How not to deal with ethnic minorities

I was horrified to learn from "The Guardian" here (with a hat-tip to Political Betting) that Labour's Lady McDonagh, in a a written statement in defence of Baroness Uddin (who has been ordered to repay more than £125,000 in wrongly claimed expenses), accused the House of Lords' ethics committee of showing “little or no cultural understanding of being a Muslim women born outside of the UK”.


Lady McDonagh could not have done more to boost the BNP had she secretly been on their payroll. If there was ever an example of "the soft racism of low expectations" that was it.

The committee found that Lady Uddin had first claimed her brother's flat, then a flat she owned in Kent, as her first home when in fact she rarely stayed away from her real main home four miles from central London.

Let's be absolutely clear on this: any member of either House of Parliament who claims more than a hundred grand of taxpayer's money more than they are entitled to, is either too stupid or too dishonest to be in that position. It doesn't matter what their culture, race, gender, or party is.

The proper place for such a person is not the palace of Westminster. It is a jail cell. In words of one syllable

A Tory who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

A Socialist who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

A Lib/Dem who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

A white MP or Peer who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

A black MP or Peer who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

An asian MP or Peer who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

A christian MP or Peer who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

An atheist MP or Peer who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

A Muslim MP or Peer who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

A male MP or Peer who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

A female MP or Peer who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

A straight, middle class, able-bodied MP or Peer who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

A disabled lesbian MP or Peer who is shown to have wrongly claimed more than £100,000 of taypayers money on the basis of false statements should be prosecuted, and if convicted should go to jail.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On losing my voice

Nasty cold today and found at church that I had lost my singing voice. The celebrant at St James's, Revd Canon Kelly, was kind enough to notice and express the hope that I would be in good voice again soon.

Quite unusual really - when a politician loses his voice most people hope it will stay lost for as long as possible !

Friday, October 15, 2010

Is this "the most left-wing government since the war?"

Simon Jenkins has been infuriating the left with an article in the Guardian which you can read here, suggesting that

"The coalition is fast becoming the most leftwing British government since the war. It has clobbered the middle classes on child benefit. On Tuesday it accepted advice to impose a swingeing loan repayment regime on rich graduates. Today it said it would wipe billions in tax relief from private pension plans. This is from a government that is the first to stand by a top-rate tax rise, to 50%, since the Labour government of 1974. Nothing is sacred. Rightwing this is not."

I don't go all the way with this argument. The coalition has also axed 200 quangos, cancelled Labour's jobs tax, and capped the benefits available to families where nobody has a health or disability problem at the income level they could earn while working at an average wage. The examples in Jenkin's article, those quoted above and others in the body of the article, were clearly selectively chosen to make a point.

And perhaps they would have been more effective in making the point that the measures this government has had to take to clear up Labour's catastrophic financial legacy have hit the middle and the rich as well as the poor. We really are "all in this together."

Nevertheless Simon Jenkins is right to highlight the irony that the loudest screams from the Labour party and the left have been when the coalition has done things which predominantly hit those on middle or higher incomes.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

List of axed quangos

The decision to axe nearly 200 quangos was referred to today as a "Bonfire of the Quangos" which is ironic as this was a term coined when they were in opposition by New Labour back in the 90's. One of many things they promised but didn't do.

By no means all quangos are unnecessary: some do good work, some of the things which used to be done by quangos will now have to be done elsewhere.

But pruning them back is necessary to maintain accountability and check waste - unless this is done every so often there is a marked tendancy for the number of quangos to grow like topsy.

Some of the bodies whose demise was formally announced today are more significant than others - some had already been virtually eliminated. For example, the once-mighty British Nuclear Fuels had already had its functions transferred to other bodies. At a Copeland Council briefing a year or so ago one of the outgoing managers at Sellafield described what was left of BNFL as being a secretary and a filing cabinet.

Many quangos such as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority which are carrying out technical functions or those which require impartiality re being retained.

A list of the quasi-autonomous national government organisations (quangos) being abolished or merged, and what is happening to them, can be found here.

An amazing rescue

I'm sure people around the world will be celebrating the amazing rescue of all the 33 men who have been trapped 2000 feet underground in a mine in Chile for two months.

A fantastic triumph for the discipline and determination of both the miners themselves and their rescuers.

Mining towns and communities tend to have a strong and tightly-knit sense of identity within themselves and with each other. Sixty and a hundred years ago Whitehaven received messages of sympathy and support from mining communities all around the world after terrible disasters: I am sure today the thoughts of millions of people all around the world will be with the people of Chile (and Bolivia) in their joy at the wonderful news that these men have been rescued.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kirksanton and Braystones dropped - official

The government has opened the re-consultation on the Nuclear Policy planning documents, and has dropped both Kirksanton and Braystones from the list of proposed sites on the grounds that neither are considered suitable for deployment by 2025.

Sellafield is still very much on the list - this was of course both my preferred site in West Cumbria and that of Copeland council.

Tuition Fees

Speaking personally, I loathe the idea of tuition fees for University education, and was very happy to stand in 2005 on a manifesto of scrapping them.

But that was in the very different financial position five years ago.

When we fought that previous election on the platform of scrapping tuition fees, it was before Labour had doubled the national debt, taking the cost of paying the interest on that debt up to £25 billion a year, more than the country spends on schools. It was not at a time when the government was spending four pounds for every three coming in.

That is why we didn't repeat the promise to scrap tuition fees in the 2010 election. We knew it was no longer affordable. And it is why I reluctantly followed the party's advice not to sign the NUS pledge to oppose any increase in tuition fees.

Nick Robinson missed the point that the Tory promise to scrap fees was made five years ago, in a totally different financial situation, and was not repeated in this year's election campaign, in his amusing and otherwise fair blogpost on "Fees made Simple" when he says of tuition fees that

" • Labour introduced them and commissioned the report proposing that the cap on them be lifted, but now says it wants them abolished

• the Tories originally proposed scrapping them, but now back almost doubling them

• the Lib Dems said they'd vote against any increase in tuition fees, but are now in charge of the department which will do just that."

He might have added that Labour promised not to introduce Tuition Fees in 1997 and then broke this promise, and that they also promised not to increase them in 2001 and then broke that one.

I think all political parties need to look carefully at which is the least worst way to fund the Higher Education system which Britain needs. There is no affordable solution to the problem of how to pay for Universities and students which will not involve messy and difficult compromises. But we have to find a way of ensuring that this country keeps a world class University system and that bright kids from poor backgrounds are able to have access to it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October meeting of Copeland Council

Copeland Council met at 5pm this evening.

As is growing depressingly familiar, there was the usual splurge of questions from Labour councillors inviting Labour executive members to complain about how terrible the cuts are. The fact that these cuts would not be necessary had not the Labour government presided over a gigantic government deficit, doubled the national debt, and left behind a situation where the government was spending four pounds for every three coming in was, for some reason, never mentioned by any of the Labour speakers.

One particular own goal was scored by the Labour councillor who asked for an impact assessment in Copeland of the job losses at Sellafield. These may indeed be serious, unless the coalition government changes the policies of its' Labour predecessor. But as I pointed out, the coalition has not changed government policy in this area. The policies and budgets which have put jobs at Sellafield at risk were put in place by Labour: indeed, the first warning of them was given BEFORE the election, while Labour was still in power, by the very union whose convenor was also the election agent to Copeland's Labour candidate.

And the secretary of state who put in place the policies which are threatening job losses at Sellafield is now the Leader of the Labour party - Ed Miliband.

Other business of the evening included

* A series of prize presentations to Copeland in Bloom

* Approval of the council's Treasury Management policy

* An outline for the new Strategic Partnership

* Approval of the updated Licensing policy. (I took the opportunity to ask that the council should encourage all licencees to join Pubwatch.)

* Approval of a new schedule of Building Control Fees

* My Bransty colleague Allan Mossop asked about the fact that the plans for the new Tesco store and Bus/Rail interchange no longer include a roundabout. Allan argued that not including such a roundabout is a mistake. (I agree with him: this would be a tragic lost opportunity.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Sense of humour failure at 52 ?

A survey carried out by the University of Glamorgan and reported on the TV channel Dave alleges that Brits start to lose our sense of humour at the age of 52.

Supposedly a poll of 2000 people found that adults have less to laugh about as they age: on average adults laugh out loud around four times a day, according to the findings, but by the time we reach 50 this falls to just three times a day and to 2.5times a day at the age of 60.

Dr Lesley Harbridge from the University of Glamorgan said: "The Lifetime of Laughter Scale shows that there really is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to laughter.

"We laugh twice as much in our teens as we do in our fifties. And our findings suggest that it's all downhill from 52."

Well, this is obviously no laughing matter, and the other Dave MUST pass a law AT ONCE to tackle the national laughter deficit by requiring Dr Harbridge and all other academics from the University of Glamorgan to spend at least two days a week from now on travelling round the country wearing a clown outfit, visiting people aged 53 or over and hitting themselves in the face with a custard pie ...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Alphabetical discrimination?

Having a surname beginning with W, I noticed a long time that society's preference for doing things in alphabetical order can inflict a number of mostly trivial nuisances on those with surnames at the end of the alphabet.

Because of voter laziness, one form of usually trivial discrimination against people with alphabetically high names is in being always placed at the bottom of the ballot paper.

In the ward where I did most of my campaigning during the very first election I was involved in - the general and local council elections of 1979 - we had a classic example of this.

A few of those who had turned out to vote for the general election, when given their local government ballot paper, just ticked the first three names. Because it was a close election, those three were elected - one Conservative, one Labour councillor, and one Independent.

My mother, whose maiden name began with L, told me that she noticed the difference when marriage to my father took her from the middle to the end of the alphabet.

In today's "political betting" thread, Mike Smithson points out that not one of the MPs elected to the Labour shadow cabinet has a surname with a letter higher in the alphabet than "M"

As Mike says,

"It’s all down to human nature and laziness. Basically when faced with a long list and a lot of choices some voters can’t be arsed going down the full list."

But as he also adds, you would expect Labour MPs to do better, even when they were faced with 49 names on the ballot paper from which they had to choose 19.

Mark Pack wrote an interesting piece about the academic evidence on the subject last year on Lib/Dem Voice which you can read "here.

The alternative solution is random ordering of the names: as Mark points out, this can make it harder to find a particular name. But there does seem to be a case that it is fairer.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Conference Diary, Wednesday - "Evidence based scepticism"

THere is always a sense of "End of Term" about the last day of a Conservative conference: doubly so because for journos and exhibitors it is not just the last day of this conference but that of the whole conference season for the year.

Nevertheless a reasonably happy mood and some intreresting contributions on Defence and Foreign affairs, the "New Politics" and political reform.

One of my Copeland colleagues has coined the phrase "Evidence-Based Scepticism" to describe the public's (largely-justified) concerns about the quality and responsiveness of public services and the extent to which politicans and other public servants of all parties and kinds do - or don't - engage with and respond to them.

Now all eyes are on DC's speech this afternoon.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Conference Diary - Tuesday

Having been back in Copeland for a meeting last night I was up very early to drive back to Conference for the Health and Education discussions. Arrived in the hall just as the Health session got under way.

Both the public service sessions - health and education - featured people involved in providing the service, from doctors and a first responder to a group of teachers.

Andrew Lansley is in the almost unique position among government ministers in that his budget is ring-fenced - but rather tha sit back and assume things will be easy he described measures being taken to reduce bureaucracy and transfer the money saved to patient care. He also described measures being taken to get greater tranparency and accountability of how health money is spent.

Michael Gove gave a very impassioned speech about the the need to raise standards and improve school discipline so as to give children who want to learn the strongest possible opportuities and incentive to do so.

Then to a very interesting Nuclear Industry Association fringe meeting with Lord Marland (the minister whose remit includes the NDA) and speakers from Sellafield and Energy Solutions.) Interesting straw in the wind was that there didn't seem to be a single anti-nuclear voice there - and although most Conservatives are pro-nuclear I don't recall nobody expressing the anti-view at a nuclear fringe meeting at Conference before.

There does seem to be an emerging clear cross-party consensus in favour of nuclear new build and taking action for a long-term solution on nuclear waste.

Conference image of the day - Tuesday

Tuesday's memorable image was of controversial American education reformer Geoff Canada addressing the conference. He runs a group of schools in one of the most depressed areas of Harlem which have had an amazing record in raising educational attainment for the disadvantaged, largely black, kids in the area.

His most memorable quote was "If our kids don't do well, neither do we."

Monday, October 04, 2010

Conference image of the day - Monday

A stall, presumably run by the same people who were selling "Gordon's Porky Pies" last year.

This one was called "Red Ed's Diner - Beer and Sandwiches" (with a picture of Ed Miliband.)

The beer was "David's bitter."

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Mr Miliband, don't you dare claim to be a friend of working class people.
Don't you dare to claim to be a friend of ethnic minorities;
and don't you dare claim to be a friend of people from the north.

I am all of these things, and Mr Miliband you are no friend of mine!"

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi

Image of the Day

Originally my image from the first day of conference was going to be of local Government Minister Greg Clark.

He was holding out a set of regional guidance documents issued by one of the Regional Assemblies that the Government has just scrapped. This huge wodge of instructions weighed 2 stones and contained 3,000 pages. Then he announced that these had all been scrapped and held out the documents that have replaced it.

It has 6 pages!

But that image was topped a few minutes later by Eric Pickles holding up one of the last surviving remnants of John Prescott's time in office; one of 20,000 biros branded with "Office of the Deputy Prime Minister".

Conference Diary - Sunday

Filthy weather on the drive down to Birmingham, but not too much in the way of roadworks on the M6 so the Copeland delegation made good time.

The efforts made to ensure that the conference speeches were not dominated by "big names" but included non-politicians seemed to be stronger than ever this year. The "Welcome to Birmingham" opening speech was delivered by the voluntary party president, who happens to be a Brummie this year, rather than by a civic dignitary, though I assume out of courtesy a slot will be found for the Mayor at some stage.

The first hour of conference consisted of a series of short presentations, each of which began with a speech by a newly elected MP, who then introduced a member of the community from their constituency. Between them both the new MPs and the non-political speakesr covered a very wide range of ages, types of community, interests, both sexes, and ethnic origins. So for example we had a community leader from Birmingham, a member of a parent's action group from Bristol, an 18-year-old woman, a small businessman, and a student.

Excellent speeches by, amongst others, Baroness Warsi, Lord Young, Eric Pickles, and William Hague