Thursday, July 30, 2009

It is up to us to bear the pains of the truth of War 

They say that when your parents die, you realise with shocking clarity that the roof is finally off the house of your life and it is up to you provide all the security for what you love.

The funeral today of Henry Allingham, and the upcoming funeral of Harry Patch, mark the point where we have no more witnesses to the obscene slaughters of the first part of the Great European Civil War of 1914-1990
That was my grandparents generation. My dad (already dead) a veteran of the 1939-1945 period of hot combat, could at the end of his life still be aroused to blind fury by accounts of what happened to his parents generation. I recall him talking about Passchendale and declaring ‘we should have shot our own generals there not the Germans’.

I doubt though whether he was aware of the line from the Internationale that the authorities would know

bientôt que nos balles
Sont pour nos propres généraux

Now it is up to us, my generation which will soon pass as well, and those younger, to do a better and more peaceful job of dealing with the serious idiocies of war and what it does to the people who we may still send out to fight.

Starting with making sure that the Iraq war Enquiry is a servant to truth not political sensibilities, let the roof fall where it may.

And that we do not fall into the ‘they must not have died in vain’ trap in Afghanistan, pushing in more troops regardless of any realistic military or political objectives, or national interests .

And that we do not let the ramshackle instruments of co-operation that we have in the European Union get sabotaged by nostalgics for the hatreds of the great Civil War.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Alternatives to warehousing older people - an ongoing debate 

One of the first decisions made by the LibDems when we took over Milton Keynes Council in 2002 was to support the development of an ‘extracare’ retirement village – an alternative to the traditional ‘care homes’ for older people. Now this very development is the centrepiece of a six-part BBC TV programme ‘Silverville’, the first episode going out on Wednesday 29 July at 10.45pm on BBC ONE

Have a look and decide whether you think this kind of ‘retirement village’ is what we should be encouraging more generally in the UK. Were we right to back this initiative?

The programme is a co-production with the Open University and the OU has prepared some backup material – see the silverville website for details. You can get a free OU booklet that sets out the options available to people approaching their retirement years. Call 0845 366 8008 or visit www.open2.net to order a copy.

If you want information on the organisation ‘extracare ’ (Including the location of other villages of this type across the UK) take a look at this link.

You might also like to take part in an OU survey on ‘care, health, accommodation and many other issues associated with ageing.’

The aim of the survey is to investigate how much is understood about services available and how they are accessed. Whether a carer or being cared for, economic factors and forward planning are key determinants of what is available and at what cost. Knowing how to make plans and where to seek advice and assistance are crucial to obtaining the best from the services.
The responses will be used by Open University researchers to map out the current “state-of-play” between perceptions and reality of life for older people in the UK.
The survey outcomes will contribute to current consultations on the future shape of the care and support system in England.

The survey can be found at

Sheila Peace, Professor of Gerontology with The Open University, is leading the research and says: “We are living at a time when we all need to address the big question over how as a nation we provide a life of quality for older people. Society will need to find new ways of caring for and supporting older people. Living arrangements will continue to change and the environment in which people grow older can be particularly important to how people feel about themselves. Different types of accommodation may provide solutions for particular groups of people but lifestyle changes need to be set within a wider discussion which the responses to the survey will help provide.”
OU press release 17 July 2009

This theme will be a hot political issue in the coming decade. The OU is to be congratulated for this public information initiative that could enrich and focus our political life in all parties.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Cuts, squeezes and the Latvian litmus paper for ourselves. 

The Latvian mess continues to rumble on, with lessons perhaps even for stronger economies, such as our own. Something to ponder as our party looks at our spending commitments and decides what we can afford to promise...

A central point is the political will to carry through policies, and the way the EU is being 'played off' against the IMF by countries in severe difficulties. See the latest (23 July) AFOE story by Edward Hugh

what the IMF are evidently worried about is the possibility that some (Latvian government) coalition members may support the agreed measures just long enough to get the payout, and then effectively disown them. This seems to be a far cry from the substantial political commitment that was earlier considered to be so essential to maintaining the peg.

And the issue goes well beyond Latvia, since as Apps points out, a string of other countries are in a similar if currently marginally better condition, including Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuanis and Hungary, all busily making cuts while coming to rely more and more on multilateral lenders.

So if there is no clear resolution to Latvia’s growing dispute with the IMF, the European Union could end up facing a dilemma - whether to bail out troubled emerging European countries who won’t make cuts or face the consequences of not doing so. As Lars Christensen, head of emerging markets research at Danske Bank in Copenhagen says:

“This could be a test case for Europe….In Latvia, it’s domestic politics that really become the driver. The question is what the EU would do if the IMF walks away.”

A good question.

And what about our own domestic politics?

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The first real National Crisis in recession Europe ? 

By Friday Latvia may go bust unless the IMF agrees to certain levels of support. This would have a serious knock-on effect right across the European Union.

For some sobering background to all this see the postings on 'A Fistful of Euros' blog from Edward Hughes. Such as this one on the European Community memorandum muddling the IMF approach.

The (European Community) document also stipulates that the government will have to report every month on all key aspects of spending and revenue, including providing a breakdown for each ministry as well as for local governments. These performance criteria, given the now near total dependence of the country on external support - de facto, as a sovereign state Latvia has effectively ceased (at least temporarily) to exist, some 19 years or so after its foundation - are not surprising in and of themselves, but it could have been hope that the country would have been better served in terms of the kind of advice which is being offered
With the IMF and the EU in a rift on this we can expect more confusion to come

One of the IMF demands is that Latvia end its 'Flat Tax' system in order to generate more revenue. As this posting shows, Latvians are very versatile evaders of existing tax rules (a hangover from Soviet days when it was a patriotic duty to bilk the government).

What will our MEPs do on this matter?

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Helicopters, heat and Afghanistan 

What is all the fuss about helicopters in Afghanistan? Well for one thing the hugely expensive British-made Lynx helicopters can't fly in a hot climate at high altitude. Basic physics about warmer air ... a distressing number of British built helicopters can only hover at sea level in temperate latitudes.

Some good references on all this on a blog called 'Defence of the Realm' which I've just found.

We reported in detail on the unhappy experiences of the Lynx in April 2007, when we had discovered that, not only were the baseline costs per hour of operating Lynx Mk7s a staggering £23,000 but, because of its inherent fragility, additional costs were being incurred. These were, "as a result of the operational use and particular climatic conditions experienced in theatre." We wrote at that time:

These costs cover additional wear and tear, additional spares and additional equipment and are paid for by the Conflict Prevention Fund. A total of £11 million has been claimed against the fund in financial year 2006-07 for additional operating and capital costs for Lynx Mk7s operating in Iraq, of which six are believed to be in service.

At that time, we also discovered that, in order to deal with the "hot and high" conditions for its deployments in Belize and Brunei, the Army had leased Bell 412s, aircraft based on the Vietnam-era Huey. The type had been selected specifically because its "unique abilities include flying in hot and often humid conditions whilst also being able to carry considerable loads." That includes the ability to lift up to 13 troops.

However the blog also analyses the claim that the recent casualties are the result of inadequate suppy of helicopters and challenges the argument being put forwards by opposition MPs. Not necessarily so....

The Conservatives' line is to accuse Brown of attempting to cover up the fact that British troops do not have enough helicopters, which has forced them to travel by road and left them vulnerable to the Taleban's IEDs. Twelve of the 15 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan this month, and three-quarters of those killed over the past two years, were killed by IEDs.

Far be it for us to disagree with the premise that more helicopters are needed in theatre, but Dr Fox is on somewhat shaky ground if he is asserting – as he appears to be doing – that the bulk of the recent deaths arose from the lack of helicopters.

And they go on to make a detailed argument challenging this, accusing the Tories of grandstanding and hot air production in their own right.

I trust our MPs such as Lynne Featherstone are being kept informed of this line of analysis.

The Lynx by the way is built at Westlands, which is in a LibDem held constituency.

Anyone got a line on who is running the 'Defence of the Realm' blog by the way?

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Still weekly, now even Greener 

One of the things we discovered this week, through worried e-mails from residents, is that some people actually moved to Milton Keynes because we still have weekly rubbish collections. They feared that Milton Keynes (‘such a clean place’) would deteriorate…Yes the fortnightly collection question still simmers on…

Why were they worried? Well the new MK weekly food waste collection system has started rolling out in my patch. So many people got new green bins, and some though this was an undercover step to move to different collection weeks for different bins. Not so. Weekly collections stay for recyclable paper and plastic (pink sacks) glass (blue boxes) unrecyclable packaging junk (black sacks) and now garden waste and food waste combined (green bins or green sacks).

The new collection option means that things like the stale bread, banana peels, bad eggs, spoiled meat, burnt porridge, onion peelings, used teabags, scrapings from dinner plates and so on that used to go into the black ‘landfill bound’ sacks are now taken away to be processed into agricultural compost.

The first collection cycle was last week for me, and I was amazed how much food waste one person could generate and how much smaller the black sack was.

How are things for you in your area?

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