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Monday, July 28, 2008

A LibDem connection to saving Bletchley Park 

Roy Jenkins was one of our code-breakers at wartime Bletchley Park, but it is to a more contemporary LibDem that we owe the physical survival of the site and buildings.

Milton Keynes New City was designated in the late 1960’s but the government concealed the history of the ULTRA decipherments until the mid-1970’s So when the first round of plans for the developments came out all Bletchley Park was known as was the Post Office Training Centre. It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that the work of the Bletchley codebreakers became really famous.

The site was therefore vulnerable to a number of development proposals. However a young and energetic Liberal campaigner decided to try to save the site. What he did was to get tree preservation orders slapped on the various imposing trees in the grounds. This was enough to deter serious development bids long enough for the national importance of the site to become recognised.

So step forwards for a bow (now) Councillor Sam Crooks of MK Council.

I completely agree with Mary Reid’s call to support the survival of Bletchley Park. As she says, do sign the petition.

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Comments:
Good heavens! I didn't know about Roy Jenkins - another of my heroes, and that doubles his status for me.

I'll link to your info - thanks
 
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The Nuclear Weapons Dance goes on 

I am very glad that Lynne Featherstone and John Hemming have co-signed the Guardian letter about nuclear warhead replacement.

But the ballooning Aldermaston budget to produce new nuclear warheads is no sudden revelation. Even the Daily Mail was complaining about this way back in December 2006.

I discussed this in a posting in January 2007, saying, amongst other things;

Aldermaston is installing two vital new pieces of kit – the ‘Orion’ laser and a hydrodynamics research unit. Together these give the capacity to gather the information previously only available through live testing of nuclear devices. Their only real purpose is to design new warheads.

In addition two huge new computer projects have been implemented making Aldermaston the most powerful computing complex in western Europe. And 700 new staff are to be recruited over the next two years, pretty openly to build bombs.
It seems to me that the Government has taken the decision to design and build a new generation of nuclear warheads, is proceeding with this regardless of decisions on deployment and launch platforms, has done so without any public debate whatsoever, has committed thousands of millions of pounds to this, (and) is hiding the costs of this from public scrutiny..


This was at the time of the Great Trident Renewal debate and I suggested that the Government was using the ‘Trident Renewal’ issue as a diversion to channel the Nuclear weapons debate into relatively safe tribal war-dance waters. This smokescreen lessened the chances of the Aldermaston Expansion getting proper scrutiny. Everybody (including the nuclear-concerned people in the LibDems) seems to have fallen into the trap.

Like it or not our defence policy needs urgent new discussions. During our last leadership contest I posted a thought that the defence thread was hijacked by ‘Trident’ We must now do much, much better. No apologies for extracting much of my Oct 2007 posting:

Our current so-called ‘Trident’ policy is not a fudge. It is an acid drop, and we need to suck on it….
The implications for our policy are clear. We voted in Parliament to delay Vanguard renewal (and were defeated). We now have an obligation as a party to carry out the clearly implied next stage of the agreed policy. That is, to debate now the position the UK should take at the upcoming negotiations and bring forwards firm recommendations. That is the acid logic of our position.

The (nuclear proliferation) treaty reviews are in the year 2010 – and in the meantime in 2009 we are due to have a general election in which nuclear arms policy can hardly fail to be an issue.We therefore need to revisit this issue in 2008 at the latest….


We should for example:

1 Look at the way the debates on this are put into ‘defining frames’ that shut out important questions and make sure we bring in some neglected frames and themes. Please, no more tribal ‘unilateralist or not’ hot-button posturing.

2 Insist that the whole question of expenditures on AWRE Aldermaston is put in the public domain, at least to equal the public accountability enforced on equivalent establishments in the USA.

3 Insist on a complete review of the way all our weapons procurement policies are managed especially on whether purchasing decision are made to subsidise industries rather than to meet vital defence needs.

4 Make clear the connections between the procurement mess and the corruption allegations about the dealings of BAe and certain foreign customers.

5 Examine the evolution of new non-nuclear high-destruction weapons that may make nuclear devices an expensive obsolescence in the next couple of decades.

6 Above all, insist on a clear strategy for armed forces evolution and for equipping our forces actually to do the jobs we say they must.


I don’t see much progress on any of this frankly, excellent letters to the Guardian be what they may.

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Comments:
In the nuclear weapons business, "hydrodynamic" testing is a nasty proposition. Here is what happens regularly at the Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab's Site 300 in the San Francisco Bay Area in the States.
http://tinyurl.com/28lmqd

Nasty stuff indeed. Besides the current nuclear weapons are good for 250 to 300 years. There is no physical need to replace the weapons.

The need is purely political, to spend a lot of money with people trusted to make the maximum "free-will" contribution to the ruling political parties and candidates.
 
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Floods and paying for risks 

I hold Steve Webb in very high regard but I am not sure he is pointing the party in the right direction with the latest statement on flood insurance.

Insurance does not pay to cover certainty. If it is certain that a house will be flooded in the next 12 months the appropriate twelve month premium is the cost in full of replacing the damaged property. The better we are at predicting flood risks and identifying high-risk properties the higher the premiums on those properties will be.

That is how insurance works. Any other argument is to take the position of Canute’s couriers.

For properties with an extremely high flood risk, for which complete flood-avoiding defences are not feasible, we may need to move into another strategy altogether. For example, payments to help adapt the properties, and the lifestyles of the people who live in them.

Wiring the houses so electric points are situated high on the walls. Developing sealing flaps to place over ventilation bricks, to reduce damp penetration if water comes that high. Developing built in sealing barriers for doors that can be raised by householders.

There are real property benefits to living in attractive areas like riverside locations. The downside of that location cannot be entirely insured against.

Unless you envisage a kind of National Health Service for flooded houses, free at the point of use.

Incidentally, the point about insurance and certainty is the reason why all insurance-based health-care systems are doomed. With better long-range diagnostic techniques the identification of long-term health costs for individuals will begin to push premiums up towards levels where they are effectively pre-pay subscriptions for actual costs. It may be that by about 2050 only an NHS style finance structure is even theoretically viable if low-income people are to have any sort of coverage.

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Comments:
Risk of flooding will be taken into account in the property/rental price of a riverside property. The state should be providing flood defences as a public good but providing insurance to lower income families, or anyone at all, is several steps too far. The analogy to healthcare does not work. If the insurance costs too much then people can move house/area. If rent rises in an area we don't try to support those people that maybe can't afford that increase. We do provide healthcare because somebody can't move body like they can move home.
I fear this is a case of good intentions; poor thinking.
 
James, my point was exactly that any healthcare analogy does not work.
 
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Intimate scrutiny 

I am not entirely sure I wanted to read about the BOSS chair technology over breakfast but there we are. Now I pass the mental image over to you.

Does illustrate the problem of modern information tools and how basic security concepts cannot always be upheld by traditional methods. Less dramatic perhaps than the debate on civil liberties and detention without trial or even the ID Cards debate..

The problem of course is the use of illicit mobile phones in prisons, BOSS is the Bodily Orifice Security Scanner and your imagination is recruited to grasp how mobile phones are entering prisons via other entries. It was piloted in the UK at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes.

Friends of mine who have been Guests Of Her Majesty say that the main think stopping prisoners just walking out of most establishments is the inability of prisoners to organise split second co-ordinated action across the prison. So, obviously, preventing mobile communications in the slammer has more than an anti-contraband role to play.

But I can’t quite put my finger (gloved or otherwise) on why this story makes me feel a little queasy.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Oh Good Lord 

Without fanfare, the blasphemy law finally expired in 'England-and-Wales' on 8 July when section 79 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 came into force.

I forgot all about this and had to be reminded by a New Zealander.

Now can someone update - is Blasphemy still on the books in Scotland? I would be amazed if it isn't still around in Northern Ireland...

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Blasphemy is still an offence in Scotland, but there has been no prosecution since 1843. This is thought to be because it is more difficult to bring a private prosecution in Scotland, as you have to prove that you are personally affected by the crime.
 
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Saturday, July 05, 2008

A fine guddle - thank you Scotland for the right words! 

One of the great pleasures of observing Scottish politics is the discovery of great words.

A 'fine Guddle' is the latest. Meaning the kind of ballsup Labour are in over selection of a candidate in Glasgow East.

Perfect.

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