Saturday, May 30, 2009

Have you had your letter from Gordon yet? 

If Labour are indeed sending out an individual letter (post paid not FREEPOST) to every elector in the UK they are really burning up on the money.

Anyway G Brown says sorry for the unacceptable expenses mess 'on behalf of all parties'. He also says Labour HAVE suspended MPs who are suspected of wrongdoing. The news this last week has come thick and fast and I have to say what I heard is that some Labour MPs have decided to stand down and that the Labour disciplinary panel is reviewing some nominations for others. But no whip removals for example.

So is this an indication that actual forced suspensions are about to be announced, or does it mean that I have been too busy delivering leaflets to notice the details in the news? The way the letter reads makes the Labour reaction one of the more vigorous responses to events. Could this possibly be intended to influence how people vote in the coming week?

It might be helpful for the reputation of politics in general if the claim is accurate. Can someone check out the facts?

Rest of letter is on credit crunch issues and immigration. Have a look when it comes.

But where did they find the money?

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How happy are the Tory Troops over Cameron Power speech? 

I was outside the building where a certain D Cameron gave his so-called Power speech – this was in the Open University Library and I turned up in all innocence to access the Library not knowing it had been privately booked*. With car parks taped off, OU security everywhere and a fairly substantial police presence I knew something was up but my first thought was of a violent emergency, an impression not lessened as the Conservative audience was pouring out of the building like it was being evacuated.

They looked a bit grim to me, worried rather than excited. Not necessarily happy campers. That was my impression before I knew they had been listening to a Cameron speech rather than fleeing other kinds of troubles.

Conservatives may not necessarily be very happy about radical shake-ups.

(* I was much to busy delivering leaflets over the weekend for the very effective Bedford Unitary election push to notice and clues about Tory national movements. It is a great campaign to help if you are near Bedford and at a loose end over the next week..).

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A banned book guerilla 

Is it OK to run an illegal library from my locker at school? That question was raised* in an internet discussion forum by an US school student who circulated books banned in her school (such as 'The Catcher In the Rye'; 'The Canterbury Tales'; 'Animal Farm'; and 'Catch-22' **).

The original YAHOO query and some responses can be accessed here.

Wonder if I would have had the guts at her age?

*of course the inner cynic in me says no school could be as stupid as the one described here so is this all a bit of fiction to put US Catholic schools in a bad light? But assuming the existance of the school as described I hope there really is at least one student with this courage.

** some of the other books on the list I really should have read myself...

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Voted, and what came with the ballot paper. 

The postal ballot paper came this morning (Thursday 21st) and is already (as of 12.30) back completed at Civic Offices. It is possible that the party is massively in the lead in the South-East Euro-Elections at this point. The long ballot paper looks quite tatty actually, black on yellow in this case, and the party symbols are rather similar looking blobs. The Tory Tree without the colour coding is frankly pathetic. Once you find it the Labour Rose looks like a rose if you really study it for a minute, but you have to find Labour first before you realise that the symbol is for Labour and of course it is The Labour so it is down amongst the Ts party-wise.

The Bird of Liberty does stand out from most of the others and may be a familiar enough sight to attract the eye for many to where our party is listed.

The plum positions of course for the donkey vote are BNP (top spot) and UKIP (bottom spot). UKIP symbol probably the most distinctive again.

For my bit of MK the ballot paper arrived in the same post as a LibDem Euro-election leaflet and a couple of days after a FOCUS went out with the Euro-Election back page. Another booster was that the news on TV as I opened the envelope was of the Gurkha decision (hurrah). Downer of course is that the other news on TV was of the Rennard resignation. Sad day to pick for such a move, the day when postal ballots arrive on doorsteps.

Also in the same post a letter from MK Council announcing the rollout of the new Green Waste collection arrangements. It is possible that some residents will recall this is the fruit of years of work by MK LibDems in control of the relevant cabinet positions.

Briefly Milton Keynes will now have weekly collections of:

1 General waste in black sacks
2 Recyclable dry waste in pink sacks
3 Domestic food waste in new tight-seal containers, which will deter rats when put out
4 Green garden waste in green wheely bins

The domestic food waste will be treated as a raw material for agricultural products.

Let's see how all that works out!

Oh and Ryan the cheque will be in the post this evening.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

The credit crunch and the political credibility crunch 

One of the standard claims of an opposition party is that it will ‘Pay for budget priorities by eliminating wasteful expenditure’.

After the ‘events’ of the last week or so the idea that there is ‘wasteful expenditure’ out there to be cut looks quite persuasive. I suspect the general taxpayer needs no persuading. Who will the enraged public trust to identify and carry out such a financial purge though? The claims of Parliament in general to be an efficient monitor of expenditures is not necessarily credible at this time.

With massive tightening on public spending necessary as the credit crunch grinds on, this is the worse time possible for Parliament to be exposed as a regulatory incontinent. Better late than never though.

Or will the argument about poachers making efficient gamekeepers strike a chord?

At the very least as part of the credit crunch response, our political representatives have to renounce the greed-anointed morality of the Thatcher years.

Our general economic argument in the upcoming General Election (whenever that is) will face a huge degree of public cynicism, probably only exceeded by the derision coming up for the Tory semi-policies as floated so far.

However Vince Cable has already been making the case that we need massive reform of our Parliamentary procedures in order to bring in proper oversight of government and other expenditures. Parliamentary eunuchs is the phrase he uses.

What a bulwark and treasure he is.

Can we build on this ?

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Around Europe economically and depressingly 

Stronger together and all that – so how are our European partners faring in these interesting economic times? These is an interesting series of postings coming up on A Fistful Of Euros on individual country performances, up so far are Italy, Estonia, Spain and Latvia.

Spain. GDP falls by an annualised 7.2% in first three months of 2009

Italy. GDP falls by an annualised 9.6% in first three months of 2009

Estonia. GDP falls by an annualised 15.6% in first three months of 2009

Latvia. GDP falls by an annualised 18% in first three months of 2009

Thoughtful reportage and unsettling graphs in all these reports. Wonder if our Cicero could put these, especially his beloved Estonia, into further context?

See also the general overview article by the same author ( Edward Hugh ) ‘Not all east European economies are the same’.

And our UK entry in this version of Eurovision is unlikely to be even as good as ‘nul points’….

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Planes boots and military blood on the ground 

According to Stephen Grey in his book ‘Operation Snakebite’ Major Haston, the Deputy Chief of Staff for UK forces in Afghanistan was in 2007 repeatedly driven to buying spares for his troops’ equipment on the INTERNET using a credit card. (Grey pp130-131)

There is a list in the book of frightening logistics shortfalls.. for example a quarter of the new mastiff armoured vehicles being out of service at any one time because of a lack of cheap spare springs.

Not to mention simple design flaws in other UK armoured vehicles that, in Haston’s view makes their drivers and front-seat commanders
uniquely vulnerable to being killed by mine strikes. The continued use of such designs was barking mad..

So if we are not equiping our troops for operations in which they literally are getting killed today, what are we actually spending military money on?

At one time there was talk of Britain radically cutting its order for the Eurofighter but we now hear that we are to buy an unspecified number in the near future. This is presumably an addition to the 55 already in service and the 89 announced in 2004. . How much of the escalating cost over-runs on this aircraft could have been used to get front-line troops decent boots? To say nothing of the equipment they are routinely promised but not provided before going into action in today’s naggling wars.

The reports that the Typhoon has now been cleared ‘for a ground attack role’ in addition to its original specified roles is not comforting for those of us who remember how previous aircraft projects were compromised by attempting mission capability creep and consequent huge cost over-runs. In this case it will be interesting to see how the conflicting requirements of a high-level interceptor (Capability to accelerate up to a great height and operate in relatively thin air) match up to the technical need of an aircraft operating at near ground level. It is likely that we will see further escalations in costs.

The reports on the aircraft order as usual talk as much about the civilian jobs ‘saved’ as about the contribution or otherwise the aircraft could make to UK military range and capability.

Stephen Grey (2009) ‘Operation Snakebite: the explosive true story an Afghan desert siege’ Penguin Viking

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Beatrix Potter and other great women scientists - a poll 

I suppose most of you are familiar with the outstanding scientist Beatrix Potter, who did important work on mycology and established that lichens are a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae. She is one of 21 names put forwards in a poll publicised by New Scientist magazine to name the outstanding woman scientist in history, and you really should go and read about the nominees. And maybe vote, even though you will curse the fact that it is not by STV as the choices are agonising.

The poll is organised by L’Oreal in its Fellowship for women in science programme and by the UKRC (UK Resource Centre for women in science, engineering and technology). UKRC notes that:

Half a million women in the UK are qualified in either science, engineering or technology (SET) - but less than a third work in those sectors, all of which are suffering a severe skills shortage, set to get worse in the coming decades.

This situation is bad for the UK’s productivity and competitiveness. It undermines the UK’s aspirations for fairness and opportunity. It wastes women’s talent and limits their career aspirations, lifetime earnings and economic contribution.

Hear hear.

I am biased as I actually know one of the nominees personally so I will not discuss voting possibilities further.

(yes, yes it is THAT Beatrix Potter. Go to the websites for the story…)

(yes, yes it is THAT L’Oreal and sure they are also doing it for the commercial beauty products publicity too but in this case …)

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Well, since only two of them are still alive, that does narrow down the possibilities a bit!

And I've met one of them myself, though I'm actually voting for Ada Lovelace, even though the write-up on her does not do her justice. She was the world's first programmer, not just a translator, for goodness sake.
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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Parties of THE in alphabetical eurotangle 

On a council or Westminster ballot paper candidates are listed in alphabetical order of surnames. On the Euro Parliament ballot paper, in alphabetical order of part names, exactly as entered in the nomination papers.

This has had the following interesting result in the South-East Euro division where the Conservatives entered as Conservative (and appear alphabetically where you expect the letter ‘C’ and the LibDems entered as Liberal Democrats (and appear after the Js and before the Ns). Which leaves ‘The Green Party’ and ‘The Labour Party’ listed together, in that order, down alphabetically amongst the T’s.

I wonder if this will make a difference for any bemused voters scanning this list:

British National Party
Christian Party ‘Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship’
Conservative Party
English Democrats
Jury Team (who by the way do not have a full slate of candidates)
Liberal Democrats
No2EU Yes to Democracy
Pro Democracy: Libertas EU
Socialist Labour Party
The Green Party
The Labour Party
The Peace Party: Non-violence, Justice, Environment
The Roman Party: Ave!
United Kingdom First
United Kingdom Impotence Party

If ‘The’ Greens and ‘The’ Labour had got themselves listed as G and L they would have appeared as fifth and seventh on the list respectively, instead of at tenth and eleventh and pushed us down from sixth to eight in the list. Exactly in the middle of the paper.

How has the Alphabet played out in other regions?

The point about the Jury Team shortfall is that it suggests that everybody who applied for a Jury listing got in. Wonder what mixed bag is involved there.. And by the way I trust everyone spotted the one ‘Deliberate Mistake’ in the spelling of party names above…

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From a brief look elsewhere the Parties of THE seem pretty universal...
Deliberate mistake: Including the word "liberal" on the line that says "Liberal Democrats"?

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Defending the UK or spreading job subsidies? 

Portsmouth is happy, Plymouth disconsolate, Rosyth on tenterhooks (according to the estimable Caron) over whether ‘the new carriers’ will be built. Lots of reactions to defence spending decisions in areas where LibDems have a strong electoral interest.

Just to be a bit contrary though, should the priority really be on spending that generates civilian jobs? The point of a military, if we have one, is to deploy people in dangerous situations with the best equipment we can find for the jobs we give them. So defence procurement should be aligned to getting the best equipment at an affordable cost. The decision on whether the Navy should have new aircraft carriers should be taken on the basis of the military deployments envisaged within a military defence plan, and not whether it reduces unemployment in (say) Fife.

Is the purpose of military procurement to get efficient armed forces with modern equipment that can be deployed now and the immediate future; or is it to provide massively subsidised civilian jobs in a select range of industries in key parliamentary seats?

As an example, the current mess we are in over Chinook helicopters is directly attributable to UK insistence on buying customised versions to generated UK civilian jobs, a policy that led to the cost per aircraft being far higher than necessary, with the UK being able to afford fewer than it needs and with a number of these aircraft actually being unusable where at present needed most – in Afghanistan for example.

And remember the BAe bribery story we were so hot on a few months back? Centred on the Tornado fighters that have cost the UK hundreds of millions in excess costs over the years, an aircraft commissioned basically to prop up UK jobs despite being inferior to kit otherwise available .

Maybe – a subversive thought - MPs with substantial defence establishments in their constituencies should be barred from sitting on defence committees? An uncomfortable suggestion I am sure for many of our leading Parliamentary lights.

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Err... Ed,

thanks for your comment on my blog.

I am not sure what you mean by imprint & address. I'd be happy to do it if you enlighten me.

sorry to do this through a comment on your blog - you can email me @ eli_kling@hotmail.com
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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Liberalism and cultural agoraphobia 

Does the concept of Cultural Agoraphobia give insights into the perennial itch-question 'what is a Liberal'? Liberals being not agoraphobic... Have a look at this posting by John Naughton in the Observer where he muses on the legacy of C.P. Snow's 'Two Cultures' meme...

A key quote:

Snow's meme has been subjected to criticism and abuse, but the idea of mutually uncomprehending cultures still seems relevant to understanding why important segments of our society are struggling to come to terms with a networked world. In our case, the gap is not between the humanities and the sciences but those who are obsessed with lock-down and control, on the one hand, and those who celebrate openness and unfettered creativity on the other. The odd thing is that one finds arts and scientific types on both sides of this divide. The legal scholar James Boyle describes this as the division between those who are culturally agoraphobic and those who are not. In a couple of recent lectures (available online at http://bit.ly/tYEFj and http://bit.ly/1KVUr4) he has suggested two intriguing thought experiments to illustrate the gap.

The examples are the French MINITEL system (agoraphobic) versus the WWW; and the Editorial Board model for a global encyclopedia (agoraphobic) versus WiKi.

The cultural agoraphobia from which most of us suffer leads us always to overemphasise the downsides of openness and lack of central control, and to overvalue the virtues of order and authority. And that is what is rendering us incapable of harnessing the potential benefits of networked technology. Industries and governments are wasting incalculable amounts of money and energy in Canute-like resistance to the oncoming wave when what they should be doing is figuring out ways to ride it.

Some would cvall this a rather technologically-deterministic view however. What do you think, friends?

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I'd go along with that.
The two examples happen to be technological, but that's because of the innovation existing there.

Another example might be between the economic planner (wants to think everything can be controlled) to the free marketeer (celebrates openness and spontaneous order).

Or anti-immigration vs open borders.

A lot of the time, it seems that people cannot comprehend how something can exist without a central authority.

The view is complicated by the fact that some people are agoraphobic only in certain instances.
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