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Archive for the ‘Personal rant’ Category

Jun 7,2009

I have been watching the BBC’s European Election Night coverage.  On the whole they seem to be getting more information out earlier than Sky News.

However, I am beginning to detect signs of bias from David Dimbleby.  He is sitting next to Nick Robinson.  Increasingly, as Nick Robinson speaks, David Dimbleby’s lip curls, and then he comes back to question what Nick Robinson has said.  He seems to have complete contempt for the quality of Nick Robinson’s intellectual analysis.

Surely that cannot be true?

Jun 5,2009

I have recently got home to North London from speaking at a meeting of Lewisham East Labour Party.  The meeting was fixed months ago and at that time there was no indication that the political scene would be quite so volatile, so the topic I had originally been asked to speak on – “the outlook for the London Council elections in 2010” – was hardly relevant.  Instead, I talked about the events of the last few weeks, leading up to today’s reshuffle and the implications of the local election results emerging since last night.

The discussion was lively and the prevailing message was that the disunity amongst members of the Parliamentary Labour Party must not continue.  Party members were divided on what they wanted to happen next, but all were clear that the crisis around the Leadership must be resolved within days.

Some commentators are tonight, of course, saying that following the reshuffle the Leadership crisis is over.  I am not so sure.  The European election votes have yet to be counted and it will be critical what the mood is when MPs return to Westminster on Monday and, in particular, what happens at the meeting that evening of the Parliamentary Labour Party (at which Gordon Brown will be speaking).  I wouldn’t like to predict how the next 72 hours will play out, but what I am clear about is that – whatever else happens – Lewisham East Labour Party members are right: the lack of unity must not be allowed to go on beyond the next few days.

May 26,2009

There seems to be a media response to the current anger about Parliamentary expenses that says that what is needed is wholesale constitutional reform.  I tend to agree that many of the constitutional reforms suggested might be quite a good idea, but I am not sure that they are the response  that the public are looking for.  Tom Harris has it right when he suggests (with considerable humour) that this may be something of a diversion away from the real issue that has grabbed the attention of the public.

I suspect that the public will not be satisfied until there is a substantial change in personnel in all of the established political parties with those who are felt to have abused the spirit of the expenses system being exiled from Parliament.

However, having said that, if there is a mood for there to be constitutional reform as well, then that is no bad thing.  So here is my personal list of seven reforms to add to the pot:

  • fixed term Parliaments with general elections every five years;
  • retaining single member constituencies in the Commons but with elections on the alternative vote system;
  • a power to recall individual MPs if more than a certain proportion of the electorate (probably at least a third of the number who cast their vote in the previous election) formally request a fresh election;
  • powerful subject-based Select Committees that not only hold inquiries but scrutinise and amend Bills before they are passed into legislation and go through departmental budgets;
  • directly-elected regional governors with powers over transport, economic development, major planning issues, further education and skills training, health provision, policing resources etc;
  • a shift of taxation-raising powers with far more being raised by local and regional government than is currently the case (with proportionately less being raised centrally); and
  • a power of general competence for local government.

I deliberately haven’t mentioned the House of Lords – partly because I can hardly be described as disinterested, but also because I think there has to be some prior debate about what the Second Chamber is for.

Anyway, there is more than enough in what I have written for people to disagree with ….

May 22,2009

I have just been informed by an authoritative source – no less a person than a London cabbie – that as part of the Parliamentary reforms currently being proposed Parliament itself is to receive commercial sponsorship for the first time.  In the running are Premier Foods plc – one of the leading food producing companies in the UK.  They are keen to sponsor Parliament as part of a promotion of one of their major brands.  If the deal goes through, the Mother of Parliaments will henceforth be known as “The Aaaah Bisto Parliament – Home of the Gravy Train”.

I think he was joking ….

May 13,2009

An unscientific sample of my personal experience seems to suggest that it is.  However, this is not just that I had a bad journey in this morning or even through this week.  Instead, it is a view that has been developing over several months.

One bus route I use reasonably often has had its frequency reduced from once every ten minutes during the week to once every twelve minutes – marginal in itself, but if a particular bus doesn’t run and it is raining …..

On another route that I use virtually every day, the number of times a week when there seem to be problems seems to have risen as well. 

I am not aware of any consultation on changes in the contracts with the bus companies concerned and, of course, it may just be chance, but I wonder how many other Londoners are beginning to feel that under Mayor Boris Johnson there seems to have been a deterioration of service.

By and large, the bus service remains good and efficient and is still markedly better than that which existed before the improvements instituted by the current Mayor’s predecessor.  However, I hope we are not starting down the slippery slope to what existed in the 1990s.

Apr 16,2009

The Director of Public Prosecutions has now published his decision on the Damian Green case.  Many people will no doubt be saying that they knew it all along, but it is worth noting that the DPP does say:

“I considered an alleged offence of misconduct in public office against Mr Galley and an alleged offence against Mr Green of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the alleged offence against Mr Galley, and of conspiring with Mr Galley for him to commit misconduct in public office. …. I have concluded that there is evidence upon which a jury might find that there was damage to the proper functioning of the Home Office. Such damage should not be underestimated.”

He also makes clear that he applied a “high threshold” test before making his decision (ie. a higher standard of proof was required than would have been necessary for others) and warns:

“This should not be taken to mean that in future cases, a prosecution on other facts would not be brought. My decision is made on the particular facts of this case and the unauthorised leaking of restricted and/or confidential information is not beyond the reach of the criminal law.”

So the message seems to be:  Damian Green could have been prosecuted and was close to being prosecuted, but not this time and don’t do it again.

Apr 16,2009

According to an article in The Wall Street Journal last week (sorry, I’ve only just seen it), the US electricity grid and other key parts of the critical national infrastructure have been the subject of cyber-attacks and there are real concerns about those behind the attacks being able to disrupt or even take control of the systems that have been penetrated as a result of the trojans left behind.  Apparently, many of the attacks were not detected by the infrastructure provider’s own security systems.  So seriously is the threat viewed and so widespread is it, that Congress approved funding for a $17 billion programme to combat it and minimise the risk to the critical national infrastructure.  And in the last couple of weeks, Democratic Senators have introduced a proposal that would require all critical infrastructure companies to meet new cyber-security standards and grant the President emergency powers over the electricity grid and other infrastructure systems.

So if the threat is viewed so seriously in the United States, do we have the same concerns in this country?  The answer is we certainly ought to be as worried.  My understanding is that UK systems have been similarly attacked, but I have real doubts whether our detection systems are as good or as thorough as those deployed in the USA.  Moreover, we do not have sufficient controls over infrastructure providers to require the highest possible standards from them.  We believe in “light-touch regulation” so in many instances all the UK authorities can do is try to use moral persuasion to get infrastructure companies to instal the best systems of security.  What regulatory systems there are are geared to ensuring competition and to the economic regulation of the market, rather than to protecting national security.  So we ought not to be worried, we ought to be very worried.

Apr 14,2009

I have been out of the country for a few days (France, since you ask) and following the McBride “smear-gate” story from internet news reports and bloggers’ comments.  With the benefit of that small degree of distance, there seem to be some very simple conclusions to draw.

First, the whole idea was deeply and irredeemably wrong.  It is not acceptable to spread defamatory lies about people – whether you dislike their politics or not.  The Prime Minister and the Labour Party should make it quite clear that the pursuit of such tactics by anyone purporting to act on their behalf or ostensibly in their interests will always be unacceptable and the individuals concerned will be treated as having brought the Party into disrepute.  I trust other Parties (no names, no pack drill) will do the same.

Second, the concept would almost certainly have been utterly counter-productive.  I am not convinced that the electorate think it matters what individuals might have done in their student days nearly twenty years ago and they are unlikely to think it relevant to their current suitability for public office.  Nor are the past (or even current) sexual peccadilloes of public figures that relevant to their ability to be Government ministers.  That doesn’t mean that people won’t take a prurient interest, but I am not convinced it makes much (if any) electoral difference.  (Indeed, I remember talking to one politician who had recently had some particularly lurid stories printed about his sexual habits.  He admitted that he had been worried about how his constituents might react.  In fact, he said that, although he had had to endure some ribald comments, most of the reaction seemed tinged with – if anything – admiration.)

Third, it would appear that the execution of the proposed smear plot was incredibly inept – using an official and traceable email address, for example.

Finally, the net result of what has happened will further demean and degrade the reputation of politicians and – in turn – the democratic process.  If you believe, like I do, that democracy and politics matters, then this may turn out to be the most worrying consequence of the whole sorry business.

Apr 3,2009

I am told that some of the protesters who broke into the RBS building on Wednesday used the place as a toilet.

No doubt Jenny Jones will see this as a reason why more portaloos should have been provided …..

And what exactly is the mindset of those protesting about global capitalism that suggests that the lucky recipients of the contents of their bowels should be the RBS cleaners (no doubt employed by contractors on the minimum wage) and those whose workstations were on the ground floor (hardly likely to be the high-paid decision-takers whom were the intended targets)?

Mar 23,2009

Bismarck said if “You like laws or sausages, never watch either of  them being made.”  It is 8.45pm and Labour Peers have been told to hang on for a possible vote on an amendment to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill.  

The amendment moved by the LibDems apparently raises an important point of principle.  Or at least that’s what the LibDems say.

So what is the amendment?  In Clause 67 of the Bill (which creates a requirement for there to be a regional economic strategy for each region) the LibDems want the Bill to say “The regional strategy for a region is to set out policies in relation to sustainable development and regeneration in the region” rather than “The regional strategy for a region is to set out policies in relation to sustainable growth in the region” .

Is someone taking the p*ss?

And after all that they didn’t press it to a vote!