Wanted to blog about today's votes - and yesterday's, although Tom Harris has comprehensively covered that - but more important to clear the desk. One of those things... the more 'interesting' the week is politically, the less chance you get to blog. I might feel sufficiently refreshed by Monday to do a catch up. Who knows.
Thursday, 30 April 2009
Wanted to blog about today's votes - and yesterday's, although Tom Harris has comprehensively covered that - but more important to clear the desk. One of those things... the more 'interesting' the week is politically, the less chance you get to blog. I might feel sufficiently refreshed by Monday to do a catch up. Who knows.
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
Buses being debated at Bristol City Council tonight. If I'm not in the Chamber I'll watch it on the webcast. Before anyone starts griping about why Labour wasn't saying these things when they were running the Council, the answer is, they were - but they were also trying to work with First Bus and the other local authorities and this obliged us to pursue a rather more conciliatory strategy, building consensus, don't rock the pram or the Tories/ Lib Dems will throw their toys out...
Mark has also put down some questions about the waste strategy (i.e. where is it, what is it and how the hell are you going to make the sums add up with the PFI element?) but I understand there's a good chance they won't get to it.
Monday, 27 April 2009
In the library in Portcullis House. I seem to have finally persuaded the parliamentary IT people that my 'repaired' phone (back from the manufacturers after a month's intensive care) is not working. It took two visits and much explanation on my part of the fact that (a) there is no signal and (b) you can't make or receive calls or texts, which I think would fit most people's definition of 'not working', but we had to have much consultation and expert furrowing of brows before it was confirmed. Am now trying to persuade them that it's not worth sending it away again to be repaired. I'm now plonked in a corner looking at emails while the guy sets up my 'temporary' replacement, which I might not let them have back.
Spotted on my trips to and fro - Diane Abbott and Moira Stewart deep in conversation over a coffee.
More on buses in the BEP today; the Lib Dem seems to be saying that the problem is that the bus drivers don't smile enough. They don't smile, they can't spell... Although Cllr Rogers then comes back in on the comments to say it's a symptom, not a cause. Fair enough (fare enough?) but doesn't really get us very far, does it? Like the buses really....
I assume it's going to be in Parliament Square, but that's more or less occupied by Tamil campaigners at the moment, including the hunger striker, so not sure it would be quite right.
Sunday, 26 April 2009
She's also obviously interested in other development issues - she's been tweeting today about malaria too. What is also appealing about her 'tweets' is that you get little insights into normal life at Downing Street; she's been planting vegetable seeds with the two boys (at least I assume it's at No. 10, might be Chequers I suppose) and the seed trays are 'peat free', she says. I don't know her at all, but I get the impression that she must be quite clued up about environmental and ethical issues. The press recently reported that she declined to eat veal and foie gras at a banquet at the recent Nato summit in France, which as you can imagine, met with my approval.
And today's Times is saying nice things about her too.
Saturday, 25 April 2009
A little while ago there was a bit of a rumpus in the blogosphere about the fact that Lib Dems seemed to have paid for a Google ad which led to a BBC piece having a bit of a go about the Labour MP, Dawn Butler. See Hopi's take on it, here and here.
Well it seems that Bristol Conservatives have now got in on the act. Here's a not particularly interesting piece from the Telegraph about a Lib Dem PPC who has defected to the Tories for what seem to me to be entirely careerist reasons, but that's beside the point. Have a look at the ad at the bottom. Care to comment, James?
PS While we're kind of on the subject of the Tories nicking other parties' candidates, in Blackburn they seem to be looking to the BNP to boost their gene pool. And here's what the candidate has to say about it:
Mr Holt told of his shock at being approached.
He said: “I had no real interest in the town council but they sort of sold it to me... I was a little bit surprised they asked me. I never volunteered it. I still subscribe to the BNP’s principles, but I was taking a break from it. When the Conservatives approached me it seemed like the right thing to do. But I have never renounced the BNP and I never would. They were happy to have me. I laughed at first but they persuaded me.”
So if the Tories had no idea who he was, and didn't know anything about his past involvement in BNP politics - which it what they've claimed, but is rather implausible given how frequently he'd stood as a BNP candidate in Blackburn - then why did they make unsolicited overtures to him? Do they just randomly approach complete strangers and ask them to stand as Tory candidates? Or did they get into a conversation with him on the doorstep and thought he sounded like their kind of guy? Someone's got some explaining to do.
*Soulwax, Too Many DJs, in case you're wondering.
Friday, 24 April 2009
One might think that if one were in the business of organising a picket of an MP's surgery, along with organising the placards and leaflets and remembering to invite the Trots to boost the numbers, one of the items on the checklist might be to find out when and where the surgery is being held. Rather than just making a random guess. Otherwise one runs the risk of turning up at a time and a place where said MP is not holding a surgery, and has never held a surgery (no disabled access). And no sign of the MP, who is busy doing other things in other places.
To digress for a moment, I was told today of the time my predecessor's office was picketed by anti-war protestors, who made an awful lot of noise shouting and blowing horns, and pelting an effigy of Jean with tomatoes. One of their number then knocked on the office door and asked if she could use the loo. And looked somewhat effronted when told to clear off.
On a more serious note, however, it's just not on to picket an MP's surgery in the first place. By all means turn up at an event where the MP is going to be speaking, or try to collar them in a public place. (Although that's not an invitation to do so!)
But surgeries are for people with problems. Sometimes very serious problems. At today's surgery - held at another time, in another place - I had a young woman who ended up in tears telling me about her housing and health problems; obviously I can't talk about her case, but it was a big step for her to pluck up the courage to come and see her MP and ask for help. I also saw two women who have gone through an absolutely horrendous time over the past few years, which again I can't talk about, and several people very worried about their asylum or immigration status, and others with financial problems. Why should any of them be subjected to a barrage of political protest when they turn up to see their MP to talk about what are essentially very private matters?
But it seems we've missed the bus. Big time. While we've been banging on about fare rises, unreliable or cancelled services, dirty buses, rude drivers and First's failure to bring fares down in lines with the drop in fuel prices, not to mention the need for a quality bus contract and an Integrated Transport Authority, the real scandal about First Bus in Bristol has passed us by.
We've been left standing at the bus stop while Cllr Woodman sails past on his way to Original FM to reveal the dreadful truth about First Bus. They don't know how to spell Colston! They spelt it with an 'e'! As Cllr Woodman says, 'it shows just how awful First Bus is'. And it takes a Liberal Democrat to tell us. We hang our Labour heads in shame.
I follow @freakonomics on Twitter. You may have read the book, but if not, it's basically an alternative take on economics and social issues - e.g did crime drop dramatically in New York because of the 'zero tolerance' policies adopted by the city Mayor, or was it because Roe-v-Wade had made abortion more easily available a couple of decades earlier? Their strapline is "The Hidden Side of Everything". So here's one of their latest tweets for starters... Discuss!
Did Celebrating Earth Day Make You Pollute More?
Beware moral self-regulation. Doing good works, it turns out, may make people feel justified in doing ill. A new study from psychologists at Northwestern University suggests that “affirming a moral identity leads people to feel licensed to act immorally.” In other words, as Ryan Sager points out, acting green one day might leave you more willing to indulge your planet-destroying consumption impulses the next.
Thursday, 23 April 2009
It's actually about a recent announcement that James Purnell has accepted the recommendation of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council "that the condition commonly known as Miners’ Knee should be added to the list of prescribed diseases". But still, punctuation aside, it conjures up images, doesn't it?
Tory has missed the bus on fares
"I read with interest the Conservative candidate for Bristol East's Feedback piece on bus fares in Bristol ("Bristol MPs say bus fares are too high", April 15).
I know she has only recently started taking an interest in local politics, which perhaps explains why she suggests that Dawn Primarolo and I have only just "woken up to the cost of travelling on First buses". The truth, as Post readers will know, is that both of us have been campaigning on this issue for a long time. This has included talking to ministers, meeting with successive managing directors of First Bus, talking to employee representatives and the local authority, and yes, writing letters to try to pin down First to give some firm commitments as to how it intends to improve our bus services. We have made it clear we believe that First must shape up or ship out.
Ms Shafi talks about the prospect of another company coming in to provide a bus service in Bristol, and yet her party, the Conservatives, voted against the Local Transport Act and the new Quality Contract scheme which would make this a viable option.
She also proposes an Integrated Transport Authority, which again was included in the legislation her party opposed. I have long been an advocate of the need for Bristol and the surrounding area to have its own transport authority, and I am glad that she has now come on board. Perhaps she could talk to her Conservative colleagues on the other three councils and persuade them of its merits now?
Finally, I note that Ms Shafi signs off by saying that letter writing is not taking 'proper action'. Perhaps she could inform us what she has done personally to campaign for better transport in Bristol (other than writing her letter, of course)?
Kerry McCarthy, MP."
I did a debate with Ms Shafi at St Brendans Sixth Form College the other week. When she started complaining about the buses, I challenged her on the above points. Her reply? "I'm not here as a Conservative, I'm speaking as someone who wants to use the buses but can't..." I expect I'll be hearing that line frequently over the coming months.
One of the students asked a cracking question, about how could a Conservative frontbench stuffed full of Old Etonians claim to speak for young people like him? Ms Shafi posited herself as an example of just how much Cameron's Conservative Party has changed - at which stage I urged the students to take a look at the Rees-Mogg progeny, Jacob and Annunziata, who are both fighting very marginal seats in nearby Somerset.
Charlotte Leslie, another Bristol Tory PPC, uses the same response in debates - look at me, I'm young and blonde, and I've been selected for a marginal seat; look how much the Tories have changed. Yes, I mutter under my breath, but you're still rather posh Charlotte, aren't you?
At least Gordon's announcement this week has triggered a slightly better informed debate about MPs' expenses than we've had over the past year or so. Michael White has an interesting piece in the Guardian, although I think he's wrong on the second jobs issue. (We're only asking people to declare hours worked and money earned - what's wrong with that? Constituents can then decide whether or not they're getting value for money from a part-time MP).
I'm not convinced the daily allowance is the solution, and I voted against it last time, for some of the very reasons that are being put forward now ('clocking in' culture, unfair on people who want to devote more time to constituency than Commons work, lack of transparency in that no receipts are required). I seem to think I got rather a lot of flak for doing so at the time.
But now I think we've reached the stage where the imperative to scrap the second homes allowance is so strong, any alternative would be better. I see the PM's proposals as an interim measure until the full review is concluded at the end of the year.
Michael says he has only 'modest' expectations of sensible comments on his post. Mine are even lower. But have a look at what he says about the systems in other European countries before you rush to judgment.
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Trying green and purple now, after Paul and bevanite complained about the blue. I was just scrolling quickly past the list of tags that I've added to this page, and all I glimpsed was 'Keanu Reeves', 'Marlon Brando', 'Michael Fabricant'... Every girl's dream trio.
Postscript. Sorry, didn't like the green. The blue is much nicer. Why should we let the devil have all the best colours?
"Main measures for renewables
The Budget contained the three main measures the REA had highlighted for renewables:
Up to £4bn of finance for new renewable energy projects in the UK will be provided by the European Investment Bank responding to serious difficulties in access to finance.
The number of Renewables Obligation Certificates allocated to new offshore wind projects will be increased to 2 per MWh for 2010/11 and 1.75 in 2011/12 before reverting to the 1.5 ROC/MWh level. The government valued this at £525m. Projects eligibility is subject to specified criteria.
The decentralised renewables sector will receive £70m of new grant support to bridge the period to the introduction of the new renewable energy tariffs; £45m for the Low Carbon Buildings Programme and £25m for community heating.
This matches the key proposals made in the REA's pre-budget submission to the Treasury, but provides less hard cash.
In addition the budget offers
o £10 million in new grants for anaerobic digestion to turn organic waste into green energy
o Authorising £4bn of networks investment by the private sector to improve access for renewable energy (a 50% increase on 5 years ago)
o £ 405m to support the Low Carbon Industrial Vision including £250m for ‘advanced industrial projects of strategic importance’.
o £50m for the Technology Strategy Board for future growth industries including low carbon technology."
Ok, don't have time to blog about the whole Budget at the moment (and obviously I'm not going to blog about the whole thing anyway, as that would be very dull indeed). So, some things can wait till later, but here are my first reactions:
- Disappointed more money couldn't be found on the child poverty front, but realise that this is a Budget about getting people into/ keeping people in work, and I suppose that has to be the absolute priority at the moment.
- Good to see a focus on making sure young people get work or training, and on the long-term unemployed; I remember the 1980s recession when some of my mates were unemployed for years after leaving school. Apparently 10% of the new jobs created for the long-term unemployed will be 'green jobs'; will try to find out more about this. What sort of jobs are they talking about? There was also the announcement of 50,000 traineeships in the social care sector; need to find out more about this too.
- Higher rate of income tax of 50p in the £ for those earning more than £150k; someone has to pay for the fiscal stimulus, and it's only right it should be those who can afford it most.
- Climate change stuff is very interesting, including an interim target of a 34% cut in emissions by 2020 and a big uplift in support for offshore wind projects (which will please the company I visited in St Philip's last week). Also announcements re carbon capture and storage, and the development of a low carbon energy and advanced green manufacturing sector in the UK. Bristol is well placed to play a leading role in this, and we have to make sure we benefit from today's announcements.
- Increase in landfill taxes by £8 per tonne on 1 April each year from 2011 to 2013; wonder what impact that will have on Bristol City Council's waste strategy? (Although I'm not quite sure it has one at the moment...
- I need to get my head round all the proposals on savings and pensions, but I'm glad action is being taken on that front. The increase in the savings disregard to £10,000 is good news for pensioners with relatively modest savings.
Well that's what caught my eye. Basically it was a 'job that needs to be done' Budget, all about taking the steps that are necessary to ameliorate the worst effects of the recession and get us out of it as soon as possible. Incidentally I thought Cameron put up a reasonably good performance today. Normally at Budget time he sits there on the Opposition frontbench looking like a puzzled potato, while Boy George and Oliver Letwin scribble frantically on his speech notes. But today he seemed a bit more on top of it, although he said absolutely nothing whatsoever about what his party would do if they were in our position.
Will blog about the Budget later. Got to go and (very reluctantly) do a webcam thingy on it now.
There was a mass exodus of people from the chamber when Nick Clegg got up to speak, and as I headed out I came across Andy Burnham deep in animated conversation with a member of the press gallery. Talking about the Budget, I assumed... then I heard him say, counting on his fingers, 'There's Liverpool, United, Villa'.
Reminded me of the time I overheard James Purnell vigorously slagging someone off to one of the House of Commons doormen. Bit indiscreet I thought. That was football too.
Usually at PMQs there are rather a lot of eager backbenchers bobbing up and down on both sides, trying to catch the Speaker's eye. It soon became apparent that the usual Tory suspects (e.g. Sven and the very tall one) were rooted firmly in their seats, forcing the usually shy and retiring Ms Nadine Dorries into the spotlight. Obviously orchestrated by the Tory whips rather than by a spontaneous show of sympathy for the poor, vilely traduced Ms D.
The Speaker eventually had no choice but to call her. She unfortunately made a bit of a hash of it, and actually gave Gordon a good opportunity to publicly re-state what he has already said about the 'Red Rag' episode.
Of course once this was out of the way, suddenly all the Tories sprang to life again. It's not the done thing to try to 'play' the Speaker in this way, and he was having none of it. Despite their best efforts, he managed to get through to the end of the session alternating between Labour and Lib Dem/ SNP MPs, and none of them got a look in. Hence our cheers and jeers.
I expect we'll end up debating this next Wednesday or Thursday, as on Monday and Tuesday next week it's the continuation of the Budget debate. And I assume it won't be a whipped vote.
More info here, in the Guardian, which also explains the savings to the taxpayer. MPs representing seats within the M25 won't be allowed to claim, and the allowance could be set at about £6,000 pa less than the current second homes allowance although that's simply speculation at this point.
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Didn't take long for the backlash to start, did it - MPs being paid on top of their wages 'just for turning up', etc, etc. That's another reason why I voted against this suggestion last year, but also because the whole thing wasn't thought through. Tony Wright has just said on Newsnight that last time this came before the House we 'made a complete botch of it'. Yes.
If we are to go down the daily allowance route, which is the one bit of the announcement where I have some reservations, we somehow we need to make clear this isn't a payment just for turning up to work. It's an allowance to cover the additional costs which that entails (for some, not all of us), such as overnight accommodation.
Some people seem to be suggesting that MPs might claim the money and then, for example, crash on someone's sofa, thus making a bit of money on the side. When my father worked for a well-known furniture removal company on their European moves, the men got given a daily allowance for a hotel and food. They'd spend it all on beer and sleep in the van. Obviously it was more comfortable on the way out, when they had beds in there. I won't be emulating him, I can assure you.
Just appeared on the Number 10 website: Gordon Brown announces proposals for a radical overhaul of MPs' expenses.
I'm particularly pleased by the plan to make all staff employees of the House of Commons, which is something I've been arguing for for a long time. Not sure how the attendance allowance thing would work out - I've voted against such measures in the past as if someone has a modest flat in central London it's going to cost them the same regardless of whether they're there three nights a week or five. There's one particular MP I know who has a marginal seat, a very long journey to the constituency and a young family there; he would lose out under these proposals because he tries to spend as much time in his constituency as possible, whereas someone who only occasionally visits their constituency might gain. And the bit about second jobs will really put the cat amongst the pigeons for the Tories! Will Gordon be able to achieve a cross-party consensus on this before next week? I suspect not.
"Going round the country I have been struck by the comments that are made by young people when I meet them about the jobs they want to do when they grow up. I meet large numbers of people who want to be doctors and nurses, many who want to be teachers and firemen and ambulancemen and many who want to be in the caring services. And when I ask them why they want to do what they plan to do, they say because they want to make a difference.
But these days I rarely meet anyone who wants to be a Member of Parliament when they grow up and that is a shame, because I think MPs can make an enormous difference to people they represent - whether its voting for laws that improve the whole of the country in or whether it is fighting the cause of a single constituent who needs your help. And we need future generations of committed young people to come into politics.
Now the vast majority of MPs I know do an excellent job. They are in public service not for what they can get, but for what they can give.
Yet the issue of expenses is casting a cloud over the whole of Parliament. So MPs need to have the humility to recognise that the country has lost confidence in the current system. To restore our faith in Parliament, and the good that it can do on the public’s behalf, we must commit to tightening up the system of allowances urgently.
Every MP I know wants to live by the rules, but for too long some of these rules have been insufficiently clear. So we need to make the rules clearer, and we also need to save money.
So I am announcing today urgent proposals to make our system of MPs’ allowances and expenses simpler and less generous.
Sir Christopher Kelly and the Committee on Standards in Public Life are continuing to carry out an independent review into the system so we can make permanent changes.
But I believe we have to act urgently with interim proposals to restore people’s confidence that MPs are there to serve the public and not serve themselves.
And I want a vote to take place to overhaul the current system as early as next week. A detailed written statement setting out our will be made by Harriet Harman but its main points are:
- the additional costs allowance - or second homes allowance - should be abolished and replaced by a flat rate daily allowance. This will reflect the fact that MPs do incur extra costs from working in two different places but it should be based on attendance in the House of Commons.
- those ministers who live in official residences would not be entitled to this allowance. Nor would MPs within travelling distance of Westminster - they would receive a London supplement similar to London weighting of salaries.
- the Committee on Standards in Public Life is examining the rules governing employment of spouses or other relatives. But in the interim, staff appointed by MPs should, without exception, become direct employees of the House of Commons, which will now be centrally responsible for their employment terms and conditions, contracts, and the payment of their salaries within the statutory limit allowed - and will have the right to make an audit and independent assessment of such contracts.
- while the committee on standards in public life looks into the issue more fully, we will ensure there is greater transparency on second jobs held by MPs. Where members of parliament have a second source of income from second jobs, every payment should be declared with a full description of what it is for and who paid it. There shall also be a full declaration of the hours worked for the payment received.
I want to discuss these interim proposals with the other party leaders and hope we can reach consensus. We will ask the House of Commons to approve them next week. With these changes I hope that the work of MPs can become recognised again for what it should be – a service to the public."
Monday, 20 April 2009
So, looking forward... The MD of the site has reassured me that it's a registered charity with no political axe to grind. They see their role as informing people about the workings of the democratic process, and basically giving people the information they need to make up their own mind. They try to explain that there is more to the stats than meets the eye; for example, your MP might not speak very much in the Chamber but may be a very assiduous member of a Select Committee. I've noticed they've started putting down Bill Committee attendance rates too; can I just say that the reason I didn't attend the one and only sitting of the Financial Mutual Arrangements Bill Committee was because the Whip didn't tell me I was on it! Apart from that, and missing one sitting of the Finance Bill Committee because the Treasury Select Committee was having a rather important meeting at the time, I think my record is rather good.
Anyway, back to the conversation with theyworkforyou. I'm told that anyone is free to suggest a topic to be covered and to provide the relevant stats, (although there is, understandably, some sort of approval process). He says he'd be happy to run with different topics, provided people out there are actually prepared to do the work. So, how about some suggestions? I'm thinking particularly on the economic front, and maybe on the equalities side too, or maybe controversial issues like stem cell research?
For the record, here's my voting record from the site, which I am quite happy to defend - but only if you make the effort to come up with some suggestions for other topics too.
Voted against a transparent Parliament.
Voted very strongly for introducing a smoking ban.
Voted very strongly for introducing ID cards.
Voted very strongly for Labour's anti-terrorism laws
Voted very strongly for replacing Trident
Voted for equal gay rights
Voted moderately for laws to stop climate change
Saturday, 18 April 2009
Have decided that Range life is going to be default option for a title whenever I'm just space-filling by blogging about the mundanities of domestic life, and generally over-sharing. At the moment I'm having an absolute feast - a bowl of organic tortellini filled with tofu and spices, chunky pieces of courgette and mushroom, and edmane beans in chilli soy sauce. Come Dine with Me is on in the background, and the one task I have left to do today is dispose of the huge pile of newspapers in the hallway in the appropriate environmentally sound way. I also have to deliver some leaflets for Paul Smith which won't take long. And then I'm off to the Zimbabwean Independence celebrations in Lockleaze, also with Mr Smith.
As this post has so far comprehensively failed to feed the trolls, despite its coded references to veganism and recyling, and a possible opportunity to throw in a ZanuLab or two, let me share this discovery with them. My bubble bath has these intructions on the side: "pour under running water and enjoy a ten minute soak". No doubt the result of a new EU Directive prescribing the optimum length of such a pleasure, soon to be enforced by draconian laws and CCTV cameras installed in every bathroom to ensure compliance. It's an outrage.
BTW on the Erith Thamesmead selection... to say the ballot box was 'tampered with' sounds like someone was trying to fix the result by, for example, removing, adding or amending some votes. 'Sabotaged' would be a better word.
Garrad Hassan is first and foremost a wind energy consultancy; in fact it's the world leader in this field. We had a really interesting discussion about the future of renewables, what more the Government could be doing to facilitate the industry, and Bristol's role as a hub for green sector jobs. Things like the need to simplify the system, from planning issues to grid connections, e.g. whether the Government should 'socialise' grid connections, and possibly create a national renewables grid? Also the 20% by 2020 target (can be met, needs a bit of help) and the Renewable Obligation Certificates regime, and of course, the current economic situation: the impact of devaluation, the availability of finance, possible green bonding as a solution? Lots more info picked up, (did you know, wind power is Denmark's second biggest industry, after bacon?), but need to decipher my notes.
Spent most of the rest of the day in the constituency office, which included a meeting with BUAV to receive my cruelty-free office award. It's such an easy thing to do, buying cleaning products from somewhere like the Co-op, and is part of BUAV's campaign for a ban on testing household products on animals. (Totally unnecessary, and very easy to stop it).
Then we had our monthly GC (General Committee meeting), which is held in St George Labour Club. We got turfed out of our room early because there was a darts match, but then piled into the club for Councillor Charlie Price's surprise 60th birthday party. (Quote from Charlie: 'Thank you all for coming because you know I bloody hate this sort of thing'). Spent most of the evening discussing council waste management policy with Cllr John Bees and Paul Smith. Next time I'm going to ask them to bring their Powerpoint slides. Also discussed how Bristol City Council could follow its cows at Stoke Park, goats in the Avon Gorge, strategy. Hippos in the Floating Harbour?
Friday, 17 April 2009
Thursday, 16 April 2009
Today's BEP's tops a report with the headline that 'MPs oppose the Severn Barrage'. And then goes on to mention only one MP in its article (and a Lib Dem one at that). Who turns out not to actually oppose a barrage at all. He just wants the shorter option.
So we're getting cows on Stoke Park and now goats in the Avon Gorge. What's next? Donkeys in the Council House? ((c) The Bristol Blogger, even though I have no idea whether he's ever said it or not.)
One of the comments runs thus:
"After the kerfuffle about the cows on Stoke Park and how they might cause global warming by breaking wind, I hope that Glenn Vowles and his vegan mates don't get to hear about this otherwise they'll get in a right panic."
This follows a front page splash from the BEP which I blogged about here and an exclusive from the Bristol Blogger which should perhaps be compulsory reading for the new residents in Avon Gorge. And then another annoying BEP story which I didn't get round to blogging about at the time, that "despite protests from vegan groups" the herd of cows in Stoke Park was getting the go ahead. Those 'vegan groups' would be Timbo the vegan DJ and... ermm, who, precisely?
Anyway, it looks like Glenn is now firmly fixed in the mind of the Bristol Evening Post reader as Public Vegan Enemy Number One, despite the fact he eats meat.
As another of the readers says:
"More evidence of the 'nanny' state?
I'll get me goat..."
We write as faith leaders, humanists and scientists united in our commitment to the eradication of child poverty in the UK. In our current economic crisis, moral leadership is needed to rebuild an economy in which values come before markets, paying attention to the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable. An end to children growing up in poverty must be a founding principle.
Economists argue that targeting resources to poor families quickly stimulates the economy, as they immediately spend to keep a warm home, put food on the table and shoes on feet (Our tax system is a mess, 11 April). While we hope that the chancellor will consider the economic argument, our primary concern is the moral imperative we have to help the country's poorest children. It is their need that is greatest in this crisis.
Taking the final steps to halve child poverty by 2010 is far more affordable than the bailouts for failed financial institutions and will deliver so much more in return by safeguarding the health of our children, the quality of their education and the joy of their play. We therefore add our voices to the 110 MPs and thousands of campaigners who have called on the chancellor for action in the budget to "Keep the Promise" on child poverty.
Rev Dr Martyn Atkins General secretary, Methodist Conference
This letter, which of course follows the letter from 110 MPs which appeared in the Observer a couple of weeks ago, much along the same lines and organised by yours truly, contrasts neatly with a letter in the Guardian earlier this week from Compass and some others.
We write to highlight personal tax avoidance by some of the wealthiest in our country, and to urge the chancellor to take action to close in on personal tax avoidance in the budget. Over 15 times as much is lost through tax avoidance at the top than to benefit fraud at the bottom. If those at the top choose not to pay their fair share, it has grave consequences for everyone. It robs our society of the funds that could end child poverty, or the money needed to increase welfare benefits and help alleviate the conditions which drive the most vulnerable to commit things such as benefit fraud in the first place.
We call on the chancellor to close in on tax avoidance, close in on tax loopholes and deliver greater tax justice. Measures could include: abolishing the domicile rule; abolishing tax havens; taxing investment income equally to income earned through labour; introducing a new wealth tax for all those earning over £250,000; introducing a new tax on bonuses; adopting a general anti-avoidance rule; removing secrecy from all British-controlled tax havens and increasing the number of tax inspectors to allow more thorough investigation.
It is time to close in on tax avoiders, recoup public money and ensure everyone in society pays their fair share - we urge the government to act.
I entirely endorse where Compass is coming from, in spirit if not down to the very last detail, (some of which is more deliverable than others) but I think it's a shame that they don't give equal emphasis to how the money would be spent. Their campaign is for 'Tax Justice', and yes, of course rich people shouldn't be able to avoid paying tax altogether by exploiting tax loopholes or tax havens, although a passing acknowledgement of just how much Gordon Brown has already done to close the former would have been appreciated.
But to isolate the issue thus, with only a passing reference to child poverty and welfare benefits, and running polls on 'taxing the wealthy' runs the risk of creating the impression that this is more about a desire to 'tax the rich till the pips squeak' than it is about ensuring we have sufficient funds in the public purse to meet social objectives.
I'd also question whether it was judicious to mention increasing welfare benefits in such a letter; I know why it was done, to juxtapose benefit fraud and tax avoidance, but again there's a risk that the suggestion is that the rich should be taxed simply to pay other people to do nothing. It would have been better to focus on childcare/ nursery provision, extended schools, tax credits, skills training - all elements in helping people move from welfare into work.
Whenever we make the case for increased taxation, which is what Compass is doing, even if it's just increased taxes for a relatively small proportion of the population, we have to justify not just why it would be 'equitable' to take the money, but also why we need it and how we think it should be spent. Yes, Compass are right to say about tax avoidance that 'it's not fair', but child poverty isn't fair either, and I wish the left of the Labour Party would throw their weight behind the End Child Poverty campaign in the same way that so many others across the political spectrum have done.
*The first of what may become a regular feature.
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that I've introduced a new one recently: "Thirdly: I might just randomly delete comments from certain people because I'm getting thoroughly fed up with them and want them to go away and annoy someone else for a while. You know who you are." Have a look at the latest comments from Dave H (on 'Get the Message') and Cato (on 'A Professional Pirate') if you want to get an idea of what would make me wearily reach into my pocket for a yellow card. I am still not entirely sure whether Dave H is joking or not.
As for Stuart's suggestion, I'm not sure the analogy between the Conservatives having Jeremy Hunt MP in charge of online strategy and therefore Labour needing a political steer from an MP is quite right. The Tories' presence on the web is led by Iain Dale, Conservative Home and Guido Fawkes: all laughably described by Tim Montgomerie in yesterday's Guardian as 'Centre Right' blogs. None of them are in-house journals, and none of them are 'master-minded' by Jeremy Hunt. (Much as I love the idea of discovering that Guido is just a puppet in his hands!)
I think LabourList can and should be salvaged (though under a new name because the old one was frankly rather dull), and blogging MPs should play a role in deciding its future, as well as people like Alastair Campbell, Hopi Sen, Sadie Smith and other established Labour bloggers in my 'If you're bored with me' list. The site needs to be significantly whittled down, with a lot less immediate content coming through. There are too many contributors at the moment and some of them should be making their name by commenting on posts rather than writing their own pieces. Why surrender the comments sections to the trolls?
And it needs more gossip - not smears, but genuine political gossip, the stuff of diary columns. (By which I mean the way diary columns used to be before the blogs took over). People who want lengthy policy analysis have plenty of places they can go to on the web. If you want to read think-tank pieces from policy wonks, well, they've already got their own sites.
LabourList (NewLabourList?) should be informative, pithy and above all, fun. And no, that's not a job application. Although I will volunteer to draft the rules if they want me to. Our blog = our rules!
Tuesday, 14 April 2009
I don't like complaining about such things because it's not always the person who deserves the blame who gets it. On the one occasion I did get an answer at the delivery office I was told they couldn't answer the phones because they're under-staffed. But I'm getting a bit fed up with it. Anyone else have the same problems?
Monday, 13 April 2009
Depressing - this sort of thing used to happen when UKDK played the Luton carnival 25, maybe 30 years ago, with NF skins trying to provoke trouble. More as I hear it.
"This blogosphere is largely populated by the cretinous, infantile forums of abuse dressed up as argument - pompous prigs of all political persuasions passing themselves off as intellectuals. But the power of these small-minded attention seekers has seduced the real political world into thinking they actually matter. They don't."
Well, I admit... I kind of know what they're talking about. But there's a risk that events of the past days could lead Labour to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and decide that the territority of the blogosphere is too dangerous for 'mainstream' politics. Which would be a shame. I think LabourList needs to be salvaged, whether under its current name or not, I'm not sure. I think it has its faults. I confess, it's not on my 'must read' list, although I do always at least skim through the LunchtimeList email.
I think one of its problems is that, quite frankly, there are too many contributors. I know the idea is that it should be an open forum, and anyone who wants to post, can do so. I appreciate the good intentions behind this, but the trouble is, it means the site ends up with no coherent identity, no personality. Multiple contributors can work; Blackburn Labour is a good example, but there they've taken care to personalise each contributor and there is an overall 'feel' to the site, which is lacking on LabourList. The other problem of course with so many contributions is that you end up not being able to see the wood for the trees; I end up simply clicking on articles by people I already know (OK, I read the ones by Douglas, so I can tell him I have) and the less well-known contributors don't get a look in.
I have some ideas as to how it can be reformed, but I suspect there will be lots of talk about this over the next few weeks so I'm keeping my ideas to myself for now.
Postscript: Have a look at Hopi's take on this too. Note that I make it into his 'comedy' section of blogs to be encouraged.
I read Alastair Campbell's novel, 'All in the Mind', yesterday and actually thought it was rather good. Here's Tom Harris' review (he obviously got the hardback). Tom ends his review by saying "It is also one of the few books I have ever read which has brought me close to tears in its closing pages". Yup, me too. Recommended.
It could be argued that without knowing all the details we might have accepted the 'bit of harmless fun' defence, and that it's the detail - in particularly the snide comments about the mental health of someone's wife - that make it all so profoundly unpleasant. And yet, those allegations are now in the public domain, thanks to the newspapers. Yes, they would have no doubt been all over the blogosphere anyway, but that could be used as an excuse to print virtually anything these days.
I assume the newspapers will have consulted their lawyers very carefully, and provided they include phrases such as 'entirely without foundation' or 'totally denied' then they're in the clear. But how many people will think, 'no smoke without fire'? Has the damage now been done? If you were one of the politicians mentioned in the story, would you rather they had, or hadn't, reported it in the way that they did? Couldn't they, for example, have given a basic outline without naming the individuals involved? (As they seem, somewhat mysteriously, to have done for just one of the four stories, which seems to me to be the one genuinely worthy of reporting, if it can at all be substantiated. And that's obviously a big if.)
Going to be absolutely ruthless in editing comments by the way. I'm pretty sure I know what you all think of Messrs Draper and McBride, and there are plenty of other sites where you can continue to express those views to your hearts' content. I'm asking one question: should the press have repeated the 'smears'? Yes or no?
Sunday, 12 April 2009
I think it's an excellent idea; my only gripe is that we've been talking about it for rather a long time, and it's about time we just got on with it. In a small way it will help address one of the issues I've blogged about on here before, i.e. the lack of opportunities for kids from certain backgrounds to participate in internships or gain work experience when they don't have 'important' contacts, and in many cases don't actually know what is out there in the world of work. How can you aspire to something if it's not within your horizon? OK, 50 hours isn't much (I wonder if Irfan thinks it's 50 hours a week?) but it will make a difference, I'm sure.
* And yes, the song titles are back, by special request.
Saturday, 11 April 2009
Hi, This mail is to tell you about a new local blog which aims to start a debate about the future of news, current affairs and issues reporting in Bristol. Local newspapers across the country are having problems with declining readership and recession. In Bristol, the Evening Post and Western Daily Press are making almost a third of staff redundant, while ITV West's local coverage is now almost non-existent. At the same time, we have seen the rise of DIY news on the web with sites like Bristol Indymedia and various bloggers and newsgroups. I thought it would be interesting to get lots of informed people talking about the future of news reporting in Bristol, so Ive started this blog. In coming weeks I plan to post a series of short articles addressing various questions and hopefully will get some debate going. It might be a complete waste of time, or it could fire some really interesting ideas. We might even create some wonderful new media models for other cities to emulate. I am a Bristol-based freelance journalist, working for local and national organisations, mostly in print. I am not an employee of any media firm and have no ulterior or financial motives in doing this. It's simply that the future of news is something that colleagues and I discuss constantly in the pub and something which we all assume, rightly or wrongly, is an important issue. So let's open the debate up beyond the pub. I'm doing it under a pseudonym for now, not because I have anything to hide, but because some of you know me (at least by name) and I don't want anyone's feelings about me and my work (which I hope would mostly be good!) affecting the debate or comment. If you're really desperate for me to reveal my secret identity, just mail me back and I'll tell you. Please take a look, please make lots of comments, please tell any friends and colleagues you think might be interested and please link from your blogs and websites.
It's at: http://felixfarley.wordpress.com/
Friday, 10 April 2009
I appreciate this was lazy blogging on my part, and was going to say more about the incident in Doncaster, but Cllr Tim has now said it for me. Have just discovered his blog, and it's excellent.
I found out about 10 days ago that someone to whom I am closely related is seriously ill. There are various other factors which make the situation rather complicated. I don't intend to say anymore about it on here, other than to offer it up as an explanation as to why I wasn't in such a tolerant mood as usual. I didn't see why I should offer myself up in the absence of higher-profile politicians on the blogosphere as a sacrificial lamb to receive the torrent of abuse for which some pseudonymous bloggers were no doubt sharpening their green-ink-stained quills in preparation. (And thanks for the delightful comments left in my absence, none of which have made it past moderation).
If this was SATC, we would now cut to a shot of me sitting at my ancient typewriter, with a voiceover saying: This made me think... "Are we human, or are we politician?" Cue theme of this week's episode.
For those of us who are public figures, even in a fairly modest way, and can't hide behind pseudonyms, blogging presents something of a dilemma. What to put into the public domain, and what to keep under wraps? (I'd suggest Nadine Dorries' online anecdote about dropping her underwear in the gym car park probably falls into the latter category).
On the one hand, people want to see their politicians as human. On the other, we're entitled to a private life. And yes, I know, some from the 'I'm paying your wages' school would dispute that.
My family and upbringing were undoubtedly the biggest single formative influence on my politics. All of human life is there, as they say. (It's a big family!) And sometimes it's difficult to explain where you're coming from as a politician without reference to your background, either to convey a particular empathy or to defend yourself when people make certain assumptions. There are shorthand methods some MPs adopt: 'I'm still the only person in my family to have had a university education' is always useful. Or 'I'm from Luton'. (There are no posh people in Luton).
There are almost certainly MPs in this current parliament who have been raped, had abortions and miscarriages, been the victims of domestic violence, or were sexually abused as children. Mo Mowlam was famously the daughter of an alcoholic parent, and talked about it her later years as a politician. There are some with family members who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or have died from drug abuse (Ian McCartney's son, for example), or have mental health issues. There will be some who have survived serious illnesses, or have children with serious disabilities.
Each politician should be entitled to make their own decision as to how much of this they choose to reveal, or conceal. Personal anecdote can be very powerful; I still remember a speech Dari Taylor made in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill debate, where she talked about her own infertility and the hope that this legislation offered to other women in her situation.
The dangers of revealing details of one's personal life are, however, manifold. Firstly, once a label is publicly-attached, it can be difficult to remove it. Neil Tennant always say that the reason he didn't choose to out himself in the music press was because he didn't want to be pigeon-holed in the press as 'gay pop star Neil Tennant'. True enough, as soon as he did choose to tell people he was gay, that's exactly what happened.
Secondly, there's the creaking sound of floodgates being opened... once you've allowed yourself to be pictured in the pages of Hello magazine boasting about your wonderful marriage, you're fair game for the paparazzi when it all goes horribly wrong and you're seen walking through the streets with a 'blotchy face' ((c) Daily Mail) and slept-in clothes. So it's best to keep off the topic altogether.
Thirdly, there's the risk of being seen to exploit the issue for personal gain, as we've seen with accusations levelled at David Cameron and others in the past. David Davis' single parent childhood formed an integral part of his pitch for the Tory leadership. Alan Johnson wouldn't be Alan Johnson if we didn't know what we know of his background. But where do you draw the line?
And finally, it's not just about you. (Some of the more ego-driven politicians may find this a hard concept to grasp, mentioning no names.) If you start talking about your family, you are putting the spotlight on people who may well not want to be subjected to its glare. Maybe a politician feels quite comfortable talking about his feckless, philandering father when discussing the issue of men taking equal responsibility for raising their children... but how does his mother feel about it? Sometimes it's easy to forget that you've got an audience, or that what you say is being recorded for posterity. It's important to keep this in mind.
I tend to operate on the basis of no names, no pack drill. I've got enough sisters (five) and enough nieces and nephews (thirteen, plus a few 'step' ones) to be able to tell the occasional anecdote without embarrassing anyone. Sometimes I will use phrases such as 'a young woman I know' or ' a friend of mine'. On more serious issues, if I did decide to 'go public' I'd probably ask the most reticent member of my family first, and they'd almost certainly say no. And that would be the end of that.