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Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Mother of all Conspiracy Theorists - Melanie Phillips in action over WMD 

It is possible that some LibDems might mention the Iraq war from time to time, you know suggesting that since the UK and USA went into Iraq after Weapons of Mass Delusion and that none were actually found, the War was an illegal crock of shit that forever stains Blair's Trousers of Legacy. This causes grave distress to American and UK neoconservatives and also to assorted New Labour types trapped into support of the war.

Well watch out on the doorstep – Melanie Phillips has had a revelation and written it up in the Spectator.

Summary of the Phillips story – the USA found massive stores of WDM in underground caves but carelessly left these unguarded allowing Saddam supporters to loot the stores and pass them on to Islamist terrorists. Now an informal coalition of the White House and Liberal critics is suppressing the Truth. The White House because of embarrassment over the looting incompetence and the World Liberal Conspiracy because it doesn’t want to admit it was wrong over WMD.

Seriously, she believes this, and loads of desperate neocons seem to be piling onto this as well, lauding the so-called whistleblower a certain Dave Gaubatz. Watch out on the doorstep for deluded Spectator readers … Sadly this is not a joke.

Hat tip as they say to Glenn Greenwald (Salon online magazine, free registration may be needed), and to Steven D in Booman Tribune. Both have lots of links to sad and frightened neocons grasping at this alleged straw.

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Hurrah for The Bird 

Thanks to the wonders of the postal vote system saw a real live ballot paper the other day .. and how the party symbols look. The ‘Bird’ is best for visibility and catching the voters eyes, followed by the UKIP ‘Tipsy Sterling’ symbol. But the new Tory ‘Hollow Oak’… well it may look all trendy in colour printed literature, but in the grey and white of a ballot paper printing it looks like a child’s dirty thumbprint.

The Tories were right I think to ditch the ‘Manic Arsonist’ symbol but obviously their marketing and brand consultants had no experience of how the new logo would actually have to perform in sharp-end political action.

I suspect that come the count it will not be so easy for party tellers to track the Tories, even in the non-postal ballot verifications. I wonder how sore-eyed Tory activists will think of Dave come the end of the counts?

Bottom line though – I love the Bird. Let it soar!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Vote, vote, vote for the anomalies? 

Great excitement on LibDem blogs (here and here for example)on UK voting rights. Should non-UK citizens be able to vote in all UK elections, and indeed stand for Parliament?

Logic says no, and yet there is a lesson from history that may be relevant in the near future if things go pear-shaped across England’s various borders.

Until very recently of course there was no such thing as UK Citizenship, the important thing was to be a ‘British Subject’. And until the 1920's the vote depended on property qualifications, not being an universal right. The complications really started when the Irish Free State was established as independent of the United Kingdom. Until 1949 Ireland was actually a Monarchy (the King being the same person as the King of England) though after de Valera came to office in 1936 the Oath of Allegiance to the Monarch was abolished and all mention of the King in official documents and the constitution were removed – without actually removing George VIth from his position as Head of State. As was remarked later in another context, an Irish solution to an Irish problem.

One consequence of this was that Irish Citizens were in fact British Subjects, and when resident in the UK were able to register to vote. Universal non-property based suffrage was quite a new idea at the time so perhaps the anomaly didn’t seem so outstanding. This was not unusual – for example until 1945 Canada did not even have its own passports, Canadian citizens carrying British ones.

When Ireland became a Republic in 1949 nobody seems to have bothered to correct the UK voting anomaly.

This strange state of affairs meant that the tense relations over the status of Northern Ireland were played out in a state of citizenship pass the parcel. There was no need to apply tests of citizenship to Irish residents of the United Kingdom before they could exercise the vote, so fewer excuses for bureaucratic friction. In Northern Ireland the Republican population could have it both ways, expressing loyalty to a foreign state while having some civic rights in another. If they had been totally excluded from the vote (instead of being gerrymandered into impotence) the position with 40% of the population being foreigners might have been even more explosive. In the rest of britain there was no need to carry out checks on Irish people to find if they tended to a Republic or non-Republic outlook.

So now then – what happens if Scotland (and perhaps Wales) become independent of England? Will Welsh people resident in Scotland who do not want to be Scottish citizens lose the right to vote in Scotland? Will I have to take English citizenship in order to keep on voting in Milton Keynes even though I may be Welsh? And Scots in England?

It may be that we need to extend the creative constitutional accountancy developed in the Irish-UK separation to such a situation, should it stumble into being, rather than falling into the hard logic of Migration Watch. The situation of Swedes and Mozamiquans being what it may.

Lest hope we dont get into such a mess!

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

British values really to the fore - well done Norfolk Police 

Yes I know it plays up to national stereotypes, ‘your policemen are wonderful’, ‘fair play’ ‘Britishness’ and all that. But the story of the Great Yarmouth policeman who won an award from Lithuania because of his response to the conditions of Lithuania migrant workers in his town is heartening.

He learned Lithuania to make contact with them, and set up a ‘Welcome to Norfolk' Webpage to help all migrants make sense of our rules and regulations and how to help the police help them. Really, a kind of FOCUS for the migrant communities.

Aciu labai (warmest thanks) PC Gary Pettengell for the inspiration, professionalism, and simple humanity. Let us hope your example inspires others.

A wider issue perhaps, congratulations to Norfolk Constabulary for putting experienced and confident police officers ‘out on the beat’. Actually in contact with the public, with organisational clout, and able to do something about what they find.

And ‘The Guardian’ even managed to spell most of its Lithuanian snippets correctly.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Now hear this, hear this! No more excuses for creating service barriers for the deaf 

Now your Council Information System (and indeed the LibDems nationally) have no excuse for being inaccessible by phone to deaf people. A big welcome for TalkByText, which should revolutionise access to ‘customer service centres, helplines, banks, hospitals, council offices, or any client-facing department.’ This product won the sustainIT National Well-Being Award for third-sector initiatives in March 2007.

As the RNID fact-sheet points out:

Many deaf and hard of hearing people find it difficult to use a voice-phone and prefer to use a textphone to make calls. However, traditional textphones are expensive, old-fashioned analogue devices, which do not work well in modern corporate networks. In contrast, TalkByText is a software only solution that can be installed on PCs, allowing businesses to communicate effectively with textphone users without the need for any additional, costly equipment.

These services should also for the first time be accessible from mobile phones running the RNID TalkByText Mobile software.

More on the sustainIT winners and commended projects for 2007 here.

SustainIT's eWell-Being Awards are the UK's only National Awards that identify and promote social, economic and environmental benefits of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

Any other deaf LibDems out there? Lets build up some pressure to make sure this advance is exploited wherever LibDems have some power or influence. In our own Party for starters.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Talking back to the cameras 

The Talking CCTV cameras set to lecture delinquent passers-by have been appropriately ridiculed by several LibDems. It all sounds like an automated version of the Russian Babushkas stern public social policing of anything they consider ‘Nekulturny’.

A pity that John Reid (The alleged Home Secretary) has apparently not taken time to read the March 2007 report of the Royal College of Engineers on ‘Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance’ (.pdf) – or if he has, he has already binned it.

Contrast Reid’s dismissal of possible opposition – that there will be some

"....in the minority who will be more concerned about what they claim are civil liberties intrusions".

With the measured introduction to the report of the chair of the RAE group …

Advances in technology have the potential to do great good, but they also carry the risk of doing damage if they are introduced without proper care and forethought.

One of The Royal Academy of Engineering's priorities is to lead debate on matters of engineering by guiding thinking, influencing
public policy making and providing a forum for the exchange of ideas. This report is a contribution to the public debate on information technology and its possible impacts on our privacy.
The report argues that the collection, storage and processing of personal data can be of great benefit to citizens, but that users' privacy must be protected. Engineers have some responsibility for
designing systems that enhance data protection. The report outlines some of the critical points where technology could be used for unreasonable or unnecessary surveillance, where technical failures can lead to loss of data and diminished trust, and where computer processing of personal data can have unwarranted consequences for fair treatment and human rights……………..

Privacy is a topic that we all feel strongly about. We all also resent the emergence of the 'surveillance society', yet demand that wrong-doers and terrorists are identified and apprehended before they can do mischief. We see the growing numbers of TV cameras in the streets and hear about biometric passports and identity fraud. Engineers' knowledge and experience can help to inform the debates that surround these contentious issues. The Royal Academy of Engineering
offers this report as a contribution to these debates.

I am finding this report extremely helpful and very accessible. I hope that we LibDems take its points seriously into our debates and initiatives on these matters.

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Campaign for Real Births 

My son was born at home, coming into the world into my hands. Home birth was his mother’s strong choice and we had wonderful support from an independent midwife.

That to my mind is the essential core of good care of women giving birth. The woman needs to be at the centre of decision making. The Midwife should be the lead professional concerned (not doctors). The structure is one-to one care. The aim is to provide the best chances for the woman and for her child, including psychological and emotional.

We had a bit of a fight with the head of maternity services in our area but we got our way. Afterwards he was heard boasting about “his model home birth!”. This was possibly influenced by all three of us (yes including the baby) and our midwife gate-crashing a lecture by Sheila Kitzinger at our local hospital training centre two days after the birth – just to show him off …

So I am pleased that the government is emphasising the acceptability of home births.

No one should be forced into having a home birth, there should be full range of options including hospitalised birth support and birth centres outside hospital structures.

But are we willing to put the resources into making this a practical possibility?

For starters can we campaign for the adoption in the UK of the Community Midwife Model? The concept of this is that


……..when a woman gets pregnant, she has direct access to a list of midwives local to her, she contacts them, meets one or two and chooses the one she feels most comfortable with. That midwife then enters into a standard contract with the NHS who pays on a set fee per case basis. This is the start of a relationship between the midwife and the woman which can develop over the months of pregnancy and provide a firm foundation for an equal partnership based on
trust. This, as the research shows, makes for good outcomes and positive experiences for everyone involved and it isn’t just about home births, the midwife would have full access to NHS facilities so her client could choose the place and type of birth that most suits her needs. It would be available to those women who want it, no matter where they live or what socio-economic class they come from.

The Independent Midwives Association, in promoting its petition for this, says:

We want every UK woman from whatever background and socio-economic status to have the opportunity to choose their lead professional and be provided with a maternity service built upon choice, information and partnership….. Under the IMA's NHS Community Midwifery Model women will be cared for by the same midwife throughout pregnancy, labour, birth and post-natally, allowing a relationship to be built between the woman and the midwife. ..
Will it Work?This model was introduced throughout New Zealand in the early 1990s and is the basis of all maternity care in N.Z. Over half of all N.Z women choose a midwife practicing independently as their lead maternity professional for their pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. A further 21% chose an employed midwife who holds her own caseload.
This model will run alongside existing maternity services, giving women choice about the kind of care they wish to receive and midwives the choice of the way they wish to practice.
Dare I say it – something of a Liberal approach?

BUT there is a threat to independent midwifery presented by the UK Government and EU initiatives on indemnity insurance:

All independent midwives have been sent a letter by the Chief Nurse, with the information that the Government is intending to pass legislation to make professional indemnity insurance (PII) a prerequisite for registration. In parallel moves, the European Parliament is also considering similar legislation.
Although the initial impetus for this legislation arose because of uninsured members of other professions, it will have a far bigger impact on midwives, because there is no PII available to independent midwives. This legislation will therefore impose a condition on their practice which it will be impossible to fulfil. Independent midwives will no longer be able to register as midwives and they will be committing a criminal offence if they continue to offer care to pregnant and birthing mothers.
The solution would perhaps be to bring independent Midwives back within the Royal College of Nursing Indemnity Scheme.

There is a lot of work to do if the current initiative on maternity services is not to be just another breeze of New Labour hot air.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Terrorism and hearing 

Two separate events but with connecting thoughts

On ‘the Doorstep’ last week one resident (noticing my deafness) said it was a pity her son wasn’t in, but he was on a course for Anti-Terrorism Unit personnel on how to help deaf people caught up in a terrorism incident.

Next morning my son told me there has been an uproar eight doors down from my house. Shouts of “Armed Police!” and “Section 42!” and the noise of a door being battered down. Of course I slept happily through all of this.

Section 42 is the part of the Anti-Terrorism act allowing forced entry…

So conflicted musings. Pleased that ‘The Authorities’ recognise that some citizens require extra guidance in a terrorist incident – shouting instructions to a deaf person just won’t be helpful. I presume similar thought is being thought through for blind people, for example.

Of course if the Armed Police had come to the wrong house down my way all the shouts of ‘Section 42’ would be just irrelevant to me until I got my aides on. Wonder what the Armed Police would have done if I had reached for the box by my bed.

And an ongoing concern. My neighbours have had a pretty frightening experience, without (to date) any word of recognition or re-assurance from any authority. Not that I have heard about, anyway.

Modern life…

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