Government policy part of the problem not the solution
It is not surprising that the Government were so upset by the linked BBC report of a British Intelligence officer saying that the UK action in Iraq causes terrorism. It was said before the Invasion that this would happen.
It is not that the UK should give in
to terrorism. It is, however, that certain types of actions cause massive resentment that can result in terrorism.
When looked at objectively over a number of years you would ask whether the UK and US are intentionally trying to create a global battle. The words used, the actions taken all lead to greater conflict.
It is a very simple point that you don't win hearts and minds at the point of a gun.
Lewis - false allegations - witness pressurised
There were reports over the weekend that Angela Stretton who was the main prosecution witness in the Lewis case now says that she was pressurised to give false evidence.
What appears to be the case in a number of investigations is that the Social Workers decide what they think has happened and then they drive the investigation to prove this. The police may manage to be balanced in their approach. However, in the Orkneys, Rochdale and Lewis the balance went out of the window.
One of the worst aspects of the system is that the courts actually respond to the opinion as to guilt of people who have no evidence. People may honestly believe that someone else is guilty of something. That, however, is not evidence.
The real problem is that the situation in the above places is only the tip of a rather large iceberg of false allegations.
Domestic Wind Power
I have always wondered about the idea of installing a windmill on my roof. Without highlighting the companies I have been looking at the figures quoted by those companies that provide the windmills.
One says:How much energy does it generate?
The xxx will generate around 10,000 kWh per year in a good wind site of 5.8m/s average. This is equivalent to five low-energy houses’ electricity demand, or the electrical needs of a twenty man office (i.e. lights, computers, servers, printers, faxes and phones)
Lets apply a bit of physics to this. kWh is a KiloWatt Hour. It is a measure of energy rather than power. If you have a single bar of an electric radiant heater (1 kW) on for an hour that provides the energy of a kWh.
If we even the figures out to calculate the average power we have to divide 10,000 by 365 days and then 24 hours. That gives you a power of 1.1 kW. Not actually as bad as it could be, but clearly not enough to power a 20 person office unless most of the equipment is kept off. (even if you multiply it up to 5kW by working hours.)
There is then the issue of having an average windspeed of 5.8m/s.
Wind Power has its role, but energy efficiency is the top priority.
Really Simple Syndication (RSS)
I have been using Bloglines
to link together my main news sources. Those are the BBC website and various blogs.
I particularly like the NHS Blog Doc
, Coppers Blog
and Frank Chalk
for a perspective on public service.
As far as Politics goes I look at Recess Monkey
, Guido Fawkes
and Iain Dale
Locally I look at Labour Councillor Bob Piper
andPolitical Hack UK
an anonymous Labour activist who is now I believe in Hall Green Constituency, but he might be in mine.
I also look at the Lib Dem Aggregator
I have, however, just installed an online reader. This should download new stories from each of the above sites at a given frequency. The challenge for life and particulary as an elected politician is to handle all the contacts you get so that the important ones (such as those from constituents) are dealt with properly and others dealt with appropriately - which for most generalised bumpf means rapid recycling. (The circular green file).
At the same time you need to remain up to speed with what is happening. As far as I am concerned I then try to free up time to make things happen. That means initiating things. Things like the OFT reference take quite a bit of work from me personally hence I need to handle everything else as efficiently as possible.
I have managed to persuade the parliamentary authorities to allow me access to the internet via ADSL. This is a major step forward as I have been using a G3/GPRS card which is relatively slow.
My main routes of communication are now email and RSS. If people phone my offices I am emailed a message and if I get a letter that I need to personally see it is scanned in and emailed to me.
The essence of communication is continuing to change away from broadcasting towards narrowcasting. This is, of course, affecting politics as politics is about communication. Leaflets, however, remain important.
This raises the question of anonymity. I think there is a good case for people such as NHS Blog doc and the like to remain anonymous. The fact that their communication is disintermediated is important. The disintermediation of the large media organisations is as significant as in retail.
It is an interesting point, however, that Iain Dale is not anonymous, whereas RecessMonkey and Guido Fawkes are (although I do know them myself). Which works best is unclear and only time will tell.
Written Parliamentary Questions: 22nd September 2006
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
(1) what consultation was undertaken by his Department in advance of the change in guidance from his Department regarding lunch expenses for those on benefits who work as volunteers; and with whom such consultation took place;
(2) what assessment he has made of the likely impact of new guidance from his Department regarding lunch expenses for those on benefits who work as volunteers on the number of those on benefits who volunteer;
(3) what estimate he has made of the number of people on benefits who do voluntary work.
Volunteering plays an important role in helping people move off benefits and back into work. It gives people confidence, the chance to develop skills and to gain invaluable experience after a period out of work.
We do not want to create a situation whereby individuals are put off volunteering or are penalised from helping themselves and others because they cannot afford to buy something to eat.
We have therefore simplified the rules. Meals can now be treated as a reasonable expense which volunteers can claim back so that they are no longer expected to meet the cost of their lunch from their benefit. We have been working closely with volunteering organisations to implement the simplification quickly and smoothly.
The number of benefit recipients who choose to volunteer is not known as we do not collect this information. (James Plaskitt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions) Local Government FinanceQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will increase the limit for capitalisation of local government spending from that announced at the Capital Programme Working Party on 26 May. (John Hemming)A:
We have no plans to increase the limit for capitalisation of local government spending from that announced at the Capital Programmes Working Party. Local authority capitalisation presents a significant risk to the prudent management of national fiscal rules and needs to be managed closely. (Phil Woolas, Minister of State (Local Government & Community Cohesion), Department for Communities and Local Government)Medical ResearchQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will ensure that patients and guardians are given a right of access to research protocols for medical research in which they are involved. (John Hemming)A:
Potential research participants have to make a considered choice whether to consent to participate in research. They should receive the information they need in order to weigh up the risks and benefits. Research ethics committees review carefully whether the information is adequate. It is normally presented as an information sheet summarizing the research project, with details of how potential participants can request further information if they wish. They may ask for the research protocol.
Research protocols held by public authorities would normally be disclosed on request. Some parts of research protocols may be confidential. (Andy Burnham, Minister of State (Delivery and Quality), Department of Health)Event Monitor Hypoxia StudyQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will ensure that medical information stored in special case files held by Professor David Southall as part of the NHS-funded research relating to the Event Monitor Hypoxia Study and continuous negative extrathoracic pressure is copied into the patients' NHS medical files; and if she will make a statement.(John Hemming)A:
Decisions about disclosure of medical information to clinicians for incorporation within medical records are the responsibility of the individuals to whom the findings relate. Researchers owe these individuals a duty of confidentiality. They are expected to clarify (either in advance, or where practicable, through subsequent contact with affected research participants) whether the individuals consent to the disclosure of the relevant information.
(Andy Burnham, Minister of State (Delivery and Quality), Department of Health)
Don't juggle with stress balls - use bean bags instead
Having started conference by addressing a couple of fringe meetings. The first was on an issue that will be very vexed over the next year or so as to where the boundary should lie between public sector directly managed services and private sector contracted services.
The NHS, of course, has now basically put out to tender all 64bn of the PCTs' budgets (potentially). Where this goes will only be seen in January, but it is interesting that there was no debate in the house on this.
The second meeting was about Core Cities and City Regions an issue about which there is much uninformed comment. The idea of the City Region is a simple system to coordinate policy between 8 local authorities, the LSC and RDA (AWM) with representation from the business sector and regional assembly.
It is not an ideal system as ideally we would link in the true economic city region of Birmingham including the travel to work area. Coventry logically could be a separate city region.
Areas such as Bristol are more complex with a multi centred nature. The point about this is that boundaries need to be worked out locally not tidily by someone in Whitehall.
There was the interesting comparison between Southampton and Pluto. Southampton is not a Core city, nor now is Pluto a planet. There are eight core cities and eight planets.
The core city links are there to argue on behalf of the big conurbations outside London. Of the 8 (Birmingham, Bristol, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle) three have lib dems in control, 2 have lib dem tory arrangements and 3 are Labour. This has been going on for some time and has had its merits in arguing the case in whitehall.
Where I have featured most in the blogsphere it appears is from juggling with the stress balls provited by the ATL. As Frank Chalk
would confirm stress is an issue in Education. I have noted a photograph on Jamie's blog
and Will Howells
actually managed to film me with a video film somehow without me dropping the balls (Which I did on numerous occasions). I was also interviewed by alex foster
The real problem for juggling with three balls is catching them. This may sound simplistic, but you need to throw them accurately enough so that you can catch them. That is why stress balls which are quite springy are not very good. Juggling balls tend to be tight bags of beans, and don't bounce out of your hand. The trick is to throw them high enough so that you have time to catch them. As you get more accurate then you can throw them a shorter distance.
It will be interesting to see what Iain Dale
comes up with. He did an interview for his new narrowcasting tv site 18 Doughty Street
which launches at midnight tonight.
I also discussed this issue with both the BBC and ITV who are launching their own localised narrowcasting video on demand type TV channels. BBC Local has been running for some time. The print media are quite worried about the BBC using license fee money to dominate online activity. The BBC say not to worry, but they would say that wouldn't they.
There was some bug going round that really knocked me out so I was out of circulation for much of Tuesday, but managed to recover to provide the accompaniment and sound system for the Glee Club on Weds night. Playing the piano almost continually for 3 1/2 hours is quite tiring on the hands. There were, however, a number of turns of which Paddy Ashdown's was very well received. Evan Harris did a very good Woody Allen sketch as well. In fact I think maybe a score of MPs, MEPs and Peers performed something at some stage - on the stage. The old traditional Skye Boat Song was, of course, performed.
Conference, NHS and General Election
I am at conference which I am not a "live blogger" for and I will not necessarily blog as much from here.
One reason that I think Labour will not go for a snap election is that they will want, where possible, to get over the impact of Hospital Closures before going to the country.
The real problem with the issue of hospital closures is that it is the initial strategy decision that forces through the closure. It is, therefore, that point at which changes are needed.
To stop the closures there needs to be a concerted effort across the country with policy commitments from political parties. Merely having a few more Richard Taylors (much that Richard Taylor is a good MP) will not affect what the civil service do to the NHS.
The meaning of words
Much of the global debate about the Pope's speech misses the point. The linked article from The Guardian is, however, much better than most reports. It still confuses states and religions in its strapline.
The point The Guardian makes is that the Vatican is unhappy about persecution of Christians in Muslim states. This obviously links to the popes denunciation of the use of force for proselytising.
What I would like to know is how the speech came to global attention. This may rest upon the meaning of the word "erstaunlich". The main meaning is "astonishing" which can be taken as implying an apology for the meaning of the quotation. An alternative nuance, however, involves positive connotations such as admirable. My German is not good enough to judge which applies. However, it is on that point that the meaning of the speech can switch. If the speech was brought to people's attention from a fluent german speaker then it does make a material difference.
Global conflict, the Pope and erstaunlich
I have found the Pope's original speech (in the original german)here
and the Vatican's translationhere
Translation is an inexact science. It is clear comparing the German to the English that the translation is not that good. (The greek gets completely lost)
I have also read the BBC's reporthere
which appears to be based upon the english translation
What the original german quotation refers to is the concept of forcing religion upon people through violence as being "evil and inhuman" and that is the object for which the Pope uses the quotation.
It is clear that the translator has changed some of the key nuances which add to the difficulties. However, where he says in german that the statement by the Kaiser was "astonishing" it is translated as "startlingly brusque". Similarly the nuances are lost in reference to jihad - where the english refers to holy war and the german to "jihad, holy war so as to speak".
Much that a large number of problems arise from the misunderstanding of what jihad actually means, the failure to translate the German well into English does not help.
In a sense this dispute shows the tensions in the world. The Vatican has since 1965 seen itself as holding Muslims "in esteem". Some relatively subtle errors of presentation in German, mistranslated into English and then further misrepresented by the media have built up quite a storm.
Clare Short and Electoral Reform
The key point about Electoral Reform is that it increases the power of the elector against the Civil Servant.
In practise a powerful single party heirarchy which gives a "strong government" simply forces through the policy of the civil service in most cases. It is, therefore, quite difficult to affect government policy when the civil service stand against something (eg PFI where it is the Treasury that push for this against pretty well everyone else).
American Psychiatrist abuses Child Protection Procedures
There are too many examples of medics across the world threatening parents with reference to Child Protection Procedures when the fault lies with the doctor.
There is a complex issue which is that sometimes bad things happen and they are not really anyone's fault. It is, therefore, not necessary for someone to be prosecuted every time someone dies.
There are situations where doctors are prosecuted for a death that they are not culpable for. Alternatively mothers (generally) and possible fathers are prosecuted for a death for which they have no responsibility. Clearly there are occasions when noone should be prosecuted, because noone is culpable.
Written Parliamentary Questions: 13th September 2006
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will instruct his officials to develop a criminal justice, immigration and mental health flow chart to identify the different routes that offenders follow and to assist in identifying and resolving gaps in the system. (John Hemming)A:
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear in his written statement of 23 May 2006, Official Report, columns 78-81 WS, there have never been systematic arrangements in place for collecting information on the nationality of mentally disordered offenders, referring them to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and considering them for deportation. He has tasked officials to construct arrangements for considering deportation where appropriate for people in this group taking account of their very specific circumstances. This work is ongoing and as part of this, appropriate pathways are being developed for the management of mentally disordered offenders. (Gerry Sutcliffe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office)Medical RecordsQ:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what medical records that are not kept within their normal medical files a doctor is permitted to hold on patients.(John Hemming)A:
There are no restrictions on what medical records are kept by doctors and other medical professionals provided they comply with the requirements of professional regulatory bodies, departmental guidance, and the law. Doctors are required by the General Medical Council to keep clear, accurate, legible and contemporaneous patient records which report the relevant clinical findings, the decisions made, the information given to patients, and any drugs or other treatment prescribed, and which serve to keep colleagues well informed when sharing the care of patients. Any information held by a doctor about a patient is subject to a range of statutory and common law obligations, including specifically the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998, directions and guidance issued by the Department and, in many cases, organisation-specific policies and working practices determined by employing bodies. (Caroline Flint, Minister of State (Public Health), Department of Health)
Goverment in wave of NHS closures
I spoke at a meeting on Saturday about the NHS where I said that until people find out that their local services are being cut they will not campaign on the issue.
Well, it looks like a number of closures will be proposed by the NHS in the near future.
Another false allegation conviction successfully appealed
It is always very difficult trying to get a system which works and deals with identifying people who have committed crimes properly.
I have always felt that there is a difference in the evidential requirements for sanctions that involve long term imprisonment from those that say involve a small fine. What has happened is that the evidential reguirements for everything have shifted. These result in substantially more false convictions. Some of the worst false convictions are those of the mothers who were alleged to have killed their babies that died from SIDS.
These were situations that were really tragic for the mothers and then they were blamed for it and punished. Those people who were responsible for this situation should really be held to account.
Oil Depletion Protocol Launched
When the laws of physics come up against the laws of economics the laws of physics always win.
The Oil Depletion Protocol - see link - is designed to handle the real consequences of the limits of the availability of Oil. Conventional oil production has already peaked, but gas and other types of oil will probably peak in production in about 2010. There is no technological quick fix that resolves this issue.
Historically energy supplies came mainly from wood, charcoal, coal, oil, gas with some nuclear and hydroelectric etc. Until the point at which Hydrocarbons peak there has always been an easier to use and generally better energy source. After that point it is human behaviour that will need to consciously change to deal with the new constraints.
We are already seeing ripples in the supply chain. The issue of "Peak Oil" is now discussed more frequently. Even the IEA accept that oil production could peak by 2015 if there is "insufficient investment". The larger oil extracters' tactics are shifting gradually.
Unlike action to deal with climate change which is a self-denying ordnance, peak oil will be an external factor that will drive change. There will basically be less oil available each year - and there will be price problems.
If we do not adjust oil consumption voluntarily then price mechanisms will ratchet in the system. My big concern is for the financially weaker members of society. That is why I have sympathy with tradeable energy quotas. However, for the moment the conventional wisdom is that oil production is nowhere near peaking. That conventional wisdom will shift, but probably after it has peaked.
The interests of the child are paramount
The link is to a story from Australia where the Child Protection team got upset that a foster carer took a child to the doctor without their permission.
Generally it is accepted that the interests of the child are "paramount". What that means is that the child comes first.
The big question is what that means in practise. The various professionals argue the case that they are acting in the interests of the child and hence it means that people should do what they say.
What the evidence is quite clear about is that they have conflicts of interests in certain circumstances. Departmental and personal interests reign supreme in comparison to the children concerned.
The evidence in terms of "looked after" children (the new term for children in care) - sometimes converted to the acronym LACs - is that being "cared for" by the system on average damages life chances.
That is not to criticise individuals generally within the process. It is the system that is dehumanising and results in situations like that in Australia. The absence of scrutiny makes the institutional interest stronger. It is important to remember that when people argue for the continuation of secrecy in public family law that this is not to protect the children. Children who are "released" for adoption are advertised publicly on websites. The secrecy of the family courts acts primarily to protect the professionals involved from scrutiny.
Captain Resigns over Afghan tactics
“Having a big old fight is pointless and just making things worse,” said Captain Leo Docherty, of the Scots Guards, who became so disillusioned that he quit the army last month.
“All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are going to turn against the British,” he said. “It’s a pretty clear equation — if people are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would.
“We’ve been grotesquely clumsy — we’ve said we’ll be different to the Americans who were bombing and strafing villages, then behaved exactly like them.”
In a sense there is little that can be added to Leo Doherty's reported comments. The tactics in Afghanistan are ones which create at least two new taliban activists for every one that is killed.
How to get rid of a serving Prime Minister
The linked article in the Independent shows how strong the position of the Prime Minister is even if a majority of his or her party's MPs want him/her gone.
In a sense it is a sign of our constitution that tends to concentrate power in individuals. I take the view that this is not helpful for good government.
What it does is increase the power of the civil service and paid officers against the electorate whose representatives are the back bench MPs or Councillors.
The European Commission is essentially unaccountable as it is established by horse trading amongst governments.
Performers Parliamentary Group to be launched
This article in The Stage
deals with the launch of the "Performers Alliance" APPG. I am a bit confused as to how writers then become performers, but I suppose if you include the concept of creating intellectual property for entertainment then that fits.MU member and Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who will be one of the vice chairs, told The Stage: “There are many performers who do not earn vast sums of money and/or have the Prime Minister living in their house in Barbados. Frequently, they have low levels of earnings and hence do not have the same ability to persuade the government as people like Bernie Ecclestone. The Performers’ Alliance Parliamentary Group is being established to ensure that their voice is heard.”
Airline Security 2006 (imitation grenade imported by air)
This imitation grenade was imported into the UK last week.
It is a cigarette lighter. That is, therefore, entirely lawful. However, you would have expected someone to have checked whether or not it was a real grenade.
What happened is that on this particular flight in the departing airport the security guards were quite busy searching some people of Asian origin. However, they just waved through the individual depicted with the grenade lighter and a clip lighter which he had in his duty free bag.
The grenade is very comparable in weight and size to an anti-personnel grenade.
I have written to the Government (Home Secretary: John Reid) raising this issue with the name of the airport the flight started in.
I accept that there are arguments about whether we have gone a bit over the top in terms of airport security in the UK. In particular the idea that certain gel filled prostheses need to be removed and searched seems dubious. I am not sure whether or not the government have it right, but we do have to trust the judgement of the security services on this.
However, if it is possible to bring in an imitation grenade by air I would ask the question as to whether or not it is possible to do the same with a real grenade.
Obviously I am not going to identify publicly the air route that this came on, but I do think the government do need to check that basic security requirements are being complied with in other countries.
There is also a question as to whether it is made very simple to import weaponry simply by doing it on a low security route which is not checked in the UK.
The Lib Dem Cover-up
There are still a few stories about claiming that the Lib Dems concealed the fact that Charles Kennedy was not always sober. This is the song on Page 10 of the current Liberator Songbook.Speed bonnie boat,
Like a hack on the make;
Back to his seat on Skye.
Carry the lad that was born to be King,
Back to the seat on Skye.
Where is the man?
Down in the bar,
Loudly the Whips pro clai-aim.
Out on the town,
Out of his head,
Charlie is pissed again.
OFT confirm receipt of reference re Gas Market
Not surprising, but a formal acknowledgement of receipt has been received from the OFT Energy Market Principal Caseworker.
Elected Mayors may be scrapped by voters
The fact that there are campaigns in 4 out of the 11 local authorities that have directly elected mayors may get the government to recognise that this is not the solution of all problems of local government.
The reason why directly elected mayors are less sensitive to lobbying by ordinary votesr is that most things they hear are filtered by advisors. Whereas it is relatively straightforward to see your local councillor, getting to see the Mayor is much harder.
The Mayor, therefore, tends to deliver what the bureaucracy want, such as laying down gravestones - an issue in Stoke. (see linked Times Story)
The point about a council leader is that thay are accountable to the councillors hence councillors can force them to change tack on policies that are unwanted and ineffectual.
Politics and Change
One thing I find interesting as a subject for study are the mechanisms for achieving change in society.
There are issues which are the subject of party political debate: such as the initial decision to go to war in Iraq, tuition fees and remain the subject of party political division.
There are other issues such as stopping free lunches for volunteers on benefits, nuisance phone calls and public family law (MSbP) which are not the subject of party political divisions.
What is interesting is the mechanism for achieving change where a party political division does not exist. The issue of Free Lunches, for example, was relatively straightforward. The problem was a bureaucratic decision somewhere in the middle of the Department of Works and Pensions. Sufficient political pressure needed to be created to ensure that change occurred. The rules were changed and that was it.
The issue of Silent Calls is more complex. Ofcom basically have been uninterested in stopping silent calls. They are, however, a substantial nuisance for many people. Gradually the rules have been tightened up, but there is no evidence of them being properly enforced. I have put a question in to Ofcom as to what they are doing and await the response. Ofcom should respond to pressure.
One of the more interesting debates is that about Public Family Law. There are so many aspects of this that have gone wrong over the decades that it is surprising the system is in such a mess. There are campaigns involving semi-coordinated court cases that review the law in respect of questions such as "is MSbP a proper syndrome". These questions are complex questions as there clearly have been cases of parents fabricating symptoms. In many ways these battles are more interesting than much that appears in the media. There are complex legal issues that have substantial impact on people's lives. Yet they are hardly ever reported in the mainstream media. This may be because of the complexity of the issues alternatively it could be because the focus is on the political sphere with its in built ad hominem fallacies.
An Australian Supreme Court case was one of the key decisions here. Also the fact that the World Health Organisation do not identify FII as a diagnosis also is important. What effect that will have in the UK is harder to determine because of the secrecy of the process, however.
Mosaic and Political Campaiging - guest article on politicalbetting.com
The link is to the guest article I have written for political betting.com