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Ministerial Responsibility

Posted by Ali Gledhill on 1 January, 2007

Peter Hain has spoken out against the handling of the war in Iraq. Criticising American foreign policy on the day that your boss is hosting the Secretary of State is very clever if you want attention, but not so sensible if you want to appeal to your party for unity. Frankly, it looks a little like a stab in the back.

Mr Hain, who voted in favour of the war, has argued that the unilateralist approach taken by Blair in staunch support of the Bush administration was folly, and that he should have adopted a more pragmatic policy towards those on the other side of the pond. He also referred to Robin Cook, who resigned over the war in 2006.

He has defended his initial support for war by claiming that he thought Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. In essence, he is admitting that the Prime Minister lied to the electorate and to his own cabinet. If a cabinet minister thinks the PM has mislead him in such a way, his aim should not be to race to succeed him, but to impeach him.

I cannot comprehend the logic of a man who has blindly followed Blair until it is convenient to look anti-war, but who remains on the cabinet that oversees the disastrous policy he is complaining about.

I sincerely hope no Labour members see this as a valiant left-winger standing up to Blair’s presidency. It is the cynical workings of a desperate hypocrite so lacking in integrity that he does not care that he is seen as such.

Oh, and Blunkett has been at it again. I am actually scared to think that this radical lunatic used to be the Home Secretary. I’m sorry to say it, but if you are sacked from the cabinet twice, you have no right to suggest radical social cleansing policies.

Posted in Misc | 1 Comment »

More on the Union

Posted by Ali Gledhill on 1 January, 2007

I wrote a piece on the Union between England and Scotland the other day, so I won’t dwell on the subject for long. But the issue has clearly swamped the airwaves in the past couple of days, because of the impending anniversary of the Act of the Union, in a way that had not really been anticipated.

More interesting is that Tony Blair has been forced to come out in staunch support for the status quo, taking a snipe at the SNP at the same time. He has claimed that we don’t need an English Parliament because we already have a United Kingdom Parliament. One must wonder, then, why he felt it necessary to devolve power to Scotland.

He then went on to say that he doesn’t want to create a two-tier system of Members of Parliament. One must wonder why he thinks that Scottish MPs should have little accountability for their actions, legislating primarily for England.

Tony Blair is in a bit of a sticky spot. Of course he will never admit that his government’s policy towards Scotland has created this mess, but he could have the decency to come up with some “real democracy to the rest of the country, too” rhetoric. As it stands, he looks as foolish and short-sighted as his policy was.

Comment must also be made on the apparent incongruity of wanting devolution to the regions, but supporting increased powers for Europe. But more on that another time…

Posted in Misc | 1 Comment »

Brown Rants About Nationalists Again

Posted by Ali Gledhill on 1 January, 2007

Am I the only one who thinks Gordon Brown’s comments that the Union between England and Scotland is at risk are slightly ironic? Am I not correct in thinking that it is his government which has, through devolution, began to split the nation up? Is he not going to become the first Prime Minister who is elected only by Scots, but who will legislate almost exclusively for England? The audacity of the man amazes me.

Gordon Brown, in his latest rant against nationalism, has called for the supporters of the union to speak up. His problem is that he has caused the nationalist feelings.

Ten years ago, Scottish, Welsh and English MPs voted on legislation that would be implemented in the UK. They each represented their own constituency, and it goes without saying that they were also concerned for their respective nation. There were too many Scottish constituencies, but that was an issue for the Boundary Commission for Scotland to deal with.

After Labour’s devolution disaster, the Scottish electorate are able to implement policies that help them and are beneficial to them. For example, they have voted against top-up fees for university education. This allows the Scots a greater level of democracy.

Sadly, their MPs still vote on matters applicable only to England. If effect, the English have legislation passed with the help of those they have no say in electing. It is completely anti-democratic for Scottish MPs to vote on English-only matters. Yet one of the perpetrators is surprised at nationalist feeling?

The English have laws imposed on them by, for example, a Home Secretary who controls English police forces but not those in Scotland, where he is elected. They also subsidise Scotland financially. Is it any wonder that many in England want to annexe Scotland?

There are only two ways to solve this problem. Either, Scotland is cut off, and left to itself. The status of the UK would diminish, Scotland would become unstable, and the English Army would be relatively small per head of population compared with Scotland’s. And, most interestingly, Scotland would own most of the nukes. Alternatively, an English Parliament could be set up, and given the same powers as that in Scotland. The English would have an equal say on domestic policy, and the United Kingdom’s role in the global community would be unchanged. The current policy of giving Scotland special treatment, and then complaining when the are treated differently, is absurd.

I would hate to see the Union abolished, and Scotland given independence. But I equally resent the Scottish MPs forcing unpopular legislation upon England. If the Union is to be protected, the two halves of it must be treated equally. Devolution was a stupid idea to begin with, but now that we are here we must look to protect the Union in the best way possible. This must surely mean the setting up an English Parliament, to put the issue to bed.

Our democracy depends upon it.

Posted in The Constitution | 5 Comments »

School leaving age to change to 18

Posted by Ali Gledhill on 1 January, 2007

The government plans to raise the English school leaving age to 18. (Google News covers many articles here.)

This policy is, frankly, absurd. In England at the moment, “young people” can leave school at 16 after their GCSEs, and pursue employment, or continue with their education to take A-levels. For those who leave at 16, many go straight into low-wage jobs. Many take part in vocational training schemes to develop their education in a practical way. Others have no interest in education or employment, and either sponge off their parents or the state.

This law would, essentially, encourage teenagers to take A-levels, and provide vocational courses for those who that would not be appropriate for. It would try, in vain, to force the delinquents and dropouts to further their education. It seems to ignore that a shockingly poor proportion of those taking GCSEs manage to get five “good” grades – A* – C. Those who are not skilled in the classroom should not be forced to continue education; it simply isn’t worth it for them!

I am all for encouragement and opportunity in schools, and I would welcome any attempt to give lower-achievers a genuine sense of aspiration. I resent any education system that consigns some of its pupils to sink schools because they will never amount to anything, so their education is not worth pursuing. But by the time a child is 16, they have no chance of turning a handful of “bad” GCSE grades into A-levels that any employer will consider worthwhile. To force them to attempt this is actually detrimental.

They should be encouraged to follow their skills: to take part in apprenticeships for trades that can easily be practiced without any formal A-level qualifications. This country has a shortage of (unfairly termed) low-skilled jobs. If we are forcing our children into education when that isn’t appropriate, we begin to ostracise them from society in general. If we encourage their participation in specific trades, they can provide a much-needed support to the nation. We all need bricklayers.

But this law will go much further. Yes, it will allow for the much-needed provision of vocational training. But it will unfairly force less-able students into an educational level they cannot cope with. And those who have no interest with education will treat vocational courses just as they have treated their education up to the age of 16: disrupting the few classes they turned up to. The stress, organisation, and enforcement of these vocational courses will not be worth the effort. In short: if someone does not comply withy school education before they are 16, they will not comply with a vocational one until they are 18.

Teenagers should be free to leave school post-16, but encouraged into further education. They should be provided with courses to take, and those who want to will prosper as a result. Those who fail to do so will not be persuaded by the law anyway, so it is pointless pursuing their education. We should not give up on them, but work lower down the education system to prevent the problem arising.

Prevention is better than cure.

Posted in Misc | 3 Comments »

More to Marr than meets the eye?

Posted by Ali Gledhill on 1 January, 2007

On Sunday, the BBC broadcasted an interview between Gordon Brown and Andrew Marr. It was decried as uneventful; dull, even. I confess immediately that I did not watch the programme, nor have I seen it on the excellent “watch again” feature on the BBC News website. I have, however, skimmed over the transcript of the interview that has been placed on their website – probably in response to the aforementioned complaints.

From what I can see of the transcript, Marr was hardly softly listening to Labour propaganda: he was challenging and wide-reaching in his questioning. Just because he isn’t combative, he shouldn’t be dismissed as a lightweight. And there was some substance hidden in there.

One paragraph stood out in particular:

AM: How is the style of government going to feel different? People out there watching – are they going to look at a Brown government and just feel that the sort of fabric of daily government is different? Is it going to be a government where you take more notice perhaps of the Cabinet? Is it going to be a government where there is, dare I say it, less spinning?

GB: It’s going to be, and has to be, a government of all the talents. And that doesn’t mean just the talents of one political party. I think you’ve got to use the talents of the wider community in government.

Yes, typical politician. Answering the question he wanted to be asked with inclusive-sounding rhetoric that will appeal to people but has no real substance to it. Or are we failing to read deep enough into the mind of this undoubtedly highly intelligent man?

It was even suggested that Blair might show a bit of cross-party support in allowing Paddy Ashdown onto his cabinet, but this never materialised.

In Blair’s pre-PM years as leader of the Labour Party, he spoke at length of the political alliance with the Lib Dems he was expecting to be forced into. Indeed, he reluctantly agreed a pledge for proportional representation, but following the 1997 election, any electoral reform would have been absolute suicide for the party. It was even suggested that Blair might show a bit of cross-party support in allowing Paddy Ashdown onto his cabinet, but this never materialised.

Now, it seems more likely than at any point in the last decade that the next general election will see a hung parliament. Is this comment from Brown actually a hint to the Lib Dems? Is he suggesting that he would be willing to form a coalition to keep the Tories from power? He knows that the next election will be close. The longer he leaves it, the smaller the Labour share of the vote will be. If he held an election in Spring 2008, Labour would probably be the largest party, but with a minority. A Lib/Lab pact would be just about workable, but Brown would have to work on cross-party relations. Is this only the first of such comments designed to infiltrate Lib Dem thinking?

It seems as if he is softening the ground for bringing Ming into his cabinet – and Foreign Secretary seems the obvious role: it is Ming’s expertise, and it is high-profile enough to keep him fairly loyal.

There is another alternative, though. If Brown calls an election for November this year, he would probably scrape a narrow victory, reminiscent of Major in 1992. With a majority smaller than his cabinet, and an increasingly frustrated party, he would find it difficult to pass legislation in tight votes. If this were to happen, would he take Ming on as Foreign Secretary? He would be able to appease the Lib Dems and to gather their support in close votes. He would be the leader of inclusion, the champion of democracy. He might even put forward some thoughts on electoral reform, meeting the Lib Dems half way with a hybrid system.

He says “It’s going to be, and has to be, a government of all the talents”. “And has to be”? He is clearly thinking that he will have to make concessions to stay in government. Now is the time to start working on those relations if he anticipates them. He is clearly trying to cosy up to the Lib Dems. The only question is, why?

If this apparently dismissible comment is to be taken seriously, it may offer insight to Brown’s plans. The phrase “you’ve got to use the talents of the wider community in government” sounds rather more like he is talking about individuals rather than a party. It sounds like he expects that his government will “have to be” inclusive of “talents” outside the Labour Party. Thus it seems as if he is softening the ground for bringing Ming into his cabinet – and Foreign Secretary seems the obvious role: it is Ming’s expertise, and it is high-profile enough to keep him fairly loyal.

If this is so, then it looks as if Brown thinks he will receive a tiny majority, indicating an early election. None of the parties can afford an election, so if one takes place they run the risk of being bankrupted. But if financial issues killed mainstream political campaigning, would it be a bad thing? Or, indeed, wouldn’t Brown’s first piece of legislation allow state funding of political parties? The arguments over motives will, of course, continue ad infinitum.

Of course, it could just be that a slimy New Labour politician was greasing his way out of a question he didn’t want to answer with nice-sounding rhetoric.

But that wouldn’t be much fun, would it?

Posted in Misc | 2 Comments »

Home Office Admit to Wasting Taxpayers’ Money

Posted by Ali Gledhill on 1 January, 2007

When technology is so widespread, it is shocking to think that the Home Office does not count the number of people walking freely from category-D prisons. Although local records are kept, central government does not know who – or even how many people – have breached their sentences. In short, people are walking free from prison, and the Home Office don’t even count them.

But for all the complaints streaming from the Tories, I haven’t heard anyone say that the Thatcher / Major governments held such records, and that Blair has abolished the system. It’s all very well being the back-seat drivers, but not so easy when you are in power, methinks.

What surprises me is the comments made by Phil Wheatley that a central tally would be kept in future, even though this would not increase the recapture rate. What, then, is the point? PR?

If a new database would not help in any way, why do the Home Office want to waste money on it? If it will do nothing to help the recapture rate, don’t set it up! Either they are wasting taxpayers’ money, or they are wasting taxpayers’ money and lying about it.

Not looking good, Dr. Reid.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

University Christian Group in Legal Action

Posted by Ali Gledhill on 1 January, 2007

Last month I wrote this article on so-called religious persecution: At the time, a BBC newsreader had just, allegedly, been stopped from wearing a cross on her necklace on air. Jack Straw had revealed that asks his constituents to remove face veils when they come to his surgeries. A British Airways worker was sacked for wearing a cross. A number of University Christian Unions had been suspended by their respective guilds because of apparent exclusivity. It seemed like freedom of religious expression was being eroded before our very eyes.

A media frenzy was whipped up; people took sides in the “should women be allowed to wear a full veil” debate, and much airtime was devoted to the issue. For what it is worth, I consider it of little importance what the newspaper columnists think of Jack Straw’s remarks. The simple fact remains that of all of the women Jack Straw says he asked to remove their veils, none of them complained to the media. It was his comments that caused all of the attention.

And if a newsreader wants to display a cross, why shouldn’t they?

The swimming club would hardly function if everybody attending was afraid of water.

I comment on this today following the news that the Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union has launched legal proceedings against the guild. They had their bank accounts frozen and were suspended from the guild because they only allowed membership to those who signed a statement of belief that Jesus Christ is their Saviour. Committee members are expected to agree to a slightly more comprehensive statement of belief.

This is simply common sense. It is only natural that the Christian Union wants its members to be Christian. Anyone can attend their meetings, but if you want to play an active part in the Union, it is only sensible to presume that you would be willing to sign up to their beliefs. Likewise, if you join the politics society it is only natural to assume that you are interested in politics. The swimming club would hardly function if everybody attending was afraid of water.

As such, the actions of the guild begin to look like active discrimination. The CU is merely trying to exercise their right to be run by those who believe in the common cause of Evangelical Christianity. Any non-Christian who wants to join up should expect suspicion: why would somebody want to join an organisation that they fundamentally disagreed with? Their intentions are unlikely to be positive.

Surely it must be acknowledged that a Christian Union deserves the right to be run by Christians? Just as a Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, etc. society should be run by those who have its best interests at heart. What I want to know is why the University guild wants to deny them the right. It seems to me that the only logical explanation is that they wish to undermine the Christian Union. If this is the case, then open discussion with the Union would be a far more sensible course of action. They should be attending the CU’s meeting, not stopping them taking place!

I suppose I should add that I write this as an Evangelical Christian, although that is hardly relevant.

Posted in The Constitution | 11 Comments »

Food Label War

Posted by Ali Gledhill on 1 January, 2007

A war seems to be breaking out between retailers, food manufacturers, and the government, over food labelling. It has had much coverage in the newspapers, and was featured on Newsnight.  The BBC has a good article on the story here, so I will sum it up briefly.

Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose, Co-Op and Marks and Spencer are following the Food Standards Agency’s new guidelines for labelling food. Known as the “traffic light” system, labels are shown in green, amber, or red according to how bad they are for you.

Tesco, Somerfield, Morrison’s, and many junk-food manufacturers are instead using a system showing what percentage of guideline daily amounts (GDA) of fat, salt, calories, etc. are contained within the food.

For example, a chocolate bar might contain a lot of fat. The government want to tell consumers the food is bad, using a red symbol. Tesco, etc. want to tell you how much fat is actually in the chocolate bar, and allow you to make an educated guess as to how much rubbish you are eating.

Clearly identified nutrition information on packets of food is almost unanimously welcomed, so what’s all the fuss about? Well, Cadbury want to sell chocolate bars, so showing a bright red icon on the front of a wrapper that effectively says “eat me and you will have a heart attack” is not their idea of positive government intervention. Thus, along with Tesco and others, they have launched a system that actually informs consumers, not scared them into not buying their product.

showing a bright red icon on the front of a wrapper that effectively says “eat me and you will have a heart attack” is not their idea of positive government intervention.

For the government’s part, it seems clear that they hate the idea of educating consumers, and would rather see them scared, so have opted for a “traffic light system”.

Tesco are launching a multi-million pound advertising campaign to tell people how informative their packaging is, which will be hit with a counter-campaign from the opposing retailers soon. And for what benefit? Both systems are better than none, and neither one is perfect. Each has its benefits; simplicity is preferred by the traffic light system, whereas information is given by the GDA labels.

Has nobody thought of combining the two systems? Hundreds of column inches, millions of pounds in advertising campaigns and hours spent on TV arguing about the benefits and failures of both systems would have been much better spent making a system that everyone can agree on! In about 5 minutes I have managed to combine the systems with information given on the BBC website. I honestly do wonder why the government don’t recommend a combined system. The mind boggles!

Food Labels

Posted in The Constitution | 2 Comments »


Posted by Ali Gledhill on 1 January, 2007

Browsing the web with no apparent purpose is always a dangerous thing, as I have just discovered after following a long series of links that has brought be to this website: The Living Room Candidate (

A wide selection of American presidential campaign adverts are shown, listed under several categories. I will leave you to explore the website yourselves (and, indeed, recommend that you do). The experience of seeing these and other adverts has reassured my view that there can be no benefit to democracy in having televised adverts in campaigns.

In America, the adverts tend not to promote the respective parties’ views, preferring to slur the opposing candidate. I can understand this in a two-party system where there is very little difference in policy from either party. The risk, though, is that hapless floating voters may see the attack ads, not read any campaign literature, and decide neither of the warring candidates deserves their vote.

Reaching apathetic members of the electorate who have chosen to watch an entertainment show rather than the news is crucial to the future of democracy.

Of course, a constructive presentation of policy is often seen in campaign adverts. Within very limited conditions, the presentation of party political information is beneficial. For example, the UK’s party election broadcasts are shown in accordance to the proportion of the vote a party gained at the last election. They are shown at the end of the news, which targets them towards the people who are most likely to care what they have to say. This is healthy. But a constant string of big-business-funded attack ads are hardly welcome!

A media blackout would be most unwelcome, so a balance must be struck between domination of the airwaves and a lack of media attention. The efforts of news organisations to promote equality are commendable, but policy is rarely shown on national news. Thus party election broadcasts are an important aspect of democracy, striking a sensible balance. In this regard, I think we’ve got it pretty much sorted!

All I will suggest, therefore, is that party election broadcast be shown not only at the end of the news, but after primetime entertainment programmes. Reaching apathetic members of the electorate who have chosen to watch an entertainment show rather than the news is crucial to the future of democracy. In this technology-based world, TV news alone will not reach far enough into the lives of the apathetic.

As such, I can only wonder how the Internet will feature in the next general election. Suffice to say that a huge amount of money will be spent on online campaigning. These are very interesting times we live in!

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Transport fares

Posted by Ali Gledhill on 1 January, 2007

It is a sad reflection of the long-standing tradition of apathy to ecological issues that this government continues to hit commuters with a double-whammy of charges. Too many people are driving on the roads, so the solution is to charge per mile. Too many people are travelling by aeroplane, so the solution is to tax airlines more. Trains are too full, so the solution is to charge more.

Whilst I can accept that there are too many cars on the road, raising taxes is hardly the answer. Air travellers will only switch to more environmentally friendly modes of transports when they have a real alternative. Sadly, that will never happen when they are charged so much to use the rail network.

when rail prices rise above inflation every year, nobody will use trains

The real issue in hand is this: when rail prices rise above inflation every year, nobody will use trains. We need to persuade people to use public transport, but we continue to raise prices for both public and private travel. This is absolutely absurd. Stealth tax of public transport will never fit into a policy of reducing greenhouse emissions. But no politician would like to admit it.

It is about time we accepted that train fares are too high. We should be lowering those prices, and allowing people to travel by train without spending a small fortune. When flying abroad is less expensive than a day trip to Swansea, there is no wonder everyone is flying instead of using the trains. I accept that taxpayers’ money will have to be spent on public transport, but savings are possible in other areas. The knock-on effects of having fewer cars on the roads are often underestimated, and although it will never cover the costs of funding a rail network, it will help.

In short, a see-saw principle should be used in relation to rail and air travel. Instead of continually placing larger and larger charges for both in order to discourage use or simply increase revenue, one price must rise and another fall to alter the public’s behaviour. Thus air fares must rise, and rail fares must fall, if we are ever to break out of this habitual destruction of the environment for short-term economic benefit.

 — UPDATE 03-01-07 —

The front page of the Independent today seems to agree.

Front page, Independent, 03-01-07

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