Monday, 30 November 2009

Independence for Yorkshire (excepts from the future archive)

The recent announcement of "London-style powers" for Yorkshire (presumably without a "Boris-like" leader) comes close to the announcement of plans for a referendum on Scottish independence.

And lo, within the future archive of the Heckmondwyke Clarion I found this:

Yorkshire will publish its white paper on the constitutional future for the Broad Acres, paving the way for an independence referendum.

Leader of the Yorkshire Nationalist Party (YNP) Arnold Postlesthwaite said Yorkshire must be independent to meet its full economic potential. However, the YNP does not have enough support from opposition parties to stage a referendum in 2010 but will proceed regardless.

The white paper, to be launched on Yorkshire Day will set out independence as its favoured option. Three other possible scenarios for Yorkshire's future are contained in the white paper: no change in the present set-up; more powers, as recommended by the Hussein Commission review of devolution; and a major transfer of responsibilities from Westminster

Speaking at its launch in York, Mr Postlesthwaite said: "It's time for the people to have their say on Yorkshire's future. The debate in Yorkshire politics is no longer between change or no change - it's about the kind of change we seek and the right of the people to choose their future in a free and fair referendum."

The content of the referendum ballot paper will not be revealed until the Referendum Bill is published early next year. Mr Postlesthwaite has expressed a preference for a single question on independence, but said he was willing to consider including another option on devolving more powers to the County.

Yorkshire’s Labour leader Steve Pitman insisted his party did not fear a referendum, but called for the idea to be dropped and to focus on more immediate concerns, such as the imminent wiping out of Labour in Yorkshire.

"We should not be distracting ourselves with a referendum, with a question which we don't even know what it is, with options we don't even know what they are," he said. "It could cost anything up to £12m - that's public resources which could be put to far better use protecting Labour’s vested interests."

Deputy leader of the Yorkshire Conservatives, Sir Myner Broadacres-Cash, added: "The worst possible time to be having a referendum is when people are concentrating on the far more important task which is how we deal with Labour's recession and get rid of socialists and greens. That is what we should be focusing on now not wasting our time on constitutional navel-gazing."

Support for the referendum seems increasingly unlikely, after Yorkshire Liberal Democrat leader Dr Nick Spottiswood recently made a rare decision.

"I think we should concentrate on the issues we are responsible for - of course make the arguments for strengthening Yorkshire and making it more accountable to our people," said Dr Spottiswood. "That's where we should be not on this obsession with independence that Mr Postlesthwaite and the rest of his party have."

The debate continues....


Sunday, 29 November 2009

How mages differ from shaman

In a comment below David Hodgson draws a nice comparison between a magus and a shaman:

“Maybe I should have used Magus instead of Shaman to have it be comprehended by a British audience”

Thinking about this, it came to me that explaining the difference between a magus and a shaman might help clear up why David & I differ.

For those who spent too much time playing Dungeons & Dragons the difference is simple – shamans are clerics and a magus is a magic user. Our shaman is concerned with the spiritual and gets strength from that source – understanding derives from heavenly wisdom and its study.

In contrast the magus is more worldly – a creature of knowledge rather than wisdom. The source of power is study, comprehension and preparation. The magus tends to eschew the spiritual and to trust in what can be seen, felt and held – however esoteric.

Perhaps business needs both kinds of people?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Sheep stunt and RSPCA idiocy


It may be a daft stunt to wheel a sheep into a supermarket but that is nothing compared to the stupidity of this official comment:

"We have tracked down the sheep's owner but we can't return it to its flock for six days because of restrictions on the movement of livestock."

Now I don't like the RSPCA but this kind of comment reveals the utter lunacy of our livestock regulations. Presumably the sheep is camped out in ASDA if it can't be moved?


Out of the shed but still have my axe...(more on business wiffle-piffle)


I had a gentle rant about the Idea Hive a few days back - and some people suggested that "underneath the new age language" lay something called "sound theory". My problem is that because it's 95% piffle we miss the good stuff. My advice is to use English.

Maurice Saatchi was of the opinion that you should be able to express a strategy clearly on one side of A4. And as I have expressed before we get all too steamed up with the word – and lose sight of action and tactics. But today that’s not my beef – what I’d like to ask is why we seem to feel that there aren’t sufficient words in the language already.

However, rather than tearing into Idea Hive (Chief Shamanic Officer wtf is all that about then, guys) again I have lifted this from those nice folk at Clarity:

"Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?"

Deregulation of the chicken's side of the road was threatening its dominant market position. The chicken was faced with significant challenges to create and develop the competencies required for the newly competitive marketplace.

In a partnering relationship with the client, we helped the chicken by rethinking its physical distribution strategy and implementation processes. Using the Poultry Integration Model (PIM), we helped the chicken deploy its skills, methodologies, knowledge, capital and experiences to align the chicken's people, processes and technology in support of its overall strategy within a Program Management framework.

We convened a diverse cross-spectrum of road analysts and best chickens along with our own consultants with deep skills in the transportation industry to engage in a two-day itinerary of meetings in order to leverage their personal knowledge capital, both tacit and explicit, and to enable them to synergise with each other in order to achieve the implicit goals in delivering and successfully architecting and implementing and enterprise-wide value framework across the continuum of poultry cross-median processes.

The meeting was held in a park-like setting, enabling and creating an impactful environment which was strategically based, industry-focused, and built upon a consistent, clear, and unified market message and aligned with the chicken's mission, vision, and core values. This was conducive towards the creation of a total business integration solution.

In conclusion, we helped the chicken change to become more successful., enjoy and, when you write stuff, try to use those good old words that everybody understands. After all without comprehension (do they still teach that at school) you're wasting your time.


Friday, 27 November 2009

Friday Fungus: Kathryn's Mum's Mushroom Soup

This was the first soup I ever made (late starter you see) but it comes from my wife's mother who is a mighty fine cook.

You'll need:

1/2 pound mushrooms (this is a good chance to use up those slightly old ones you haven't got left)
A small onion (chopped)
3/4 pint stock (mix an oxo cube with some chopped up dried porcini and add water)
1/2 pint milk
2 oz butter
1 oz flour
Salt & pepper
Soy sauce ( a good slug)

Fry the onion in half the butter (in a deep, heavy bottomed pan) for two or three minutes then add the mushrooms - roughly chopped - and the stock, salt & pepper. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make a roux with the flour and remaining butter. Transfer the roux to a warmed liquidizer and add the cooked mushrooms and stock. Whizz the soup for 30 seconds or so and transfer back to the heavy bottomed pan. Add the good slug of soy sauce, stir and heat through.

The official recipe calls for sliced mushrooms as garnish - go for it (or those tiny little chanterelles - they'd work)


Thursday, 26 November 2009

Dear Caroline...don't we believe in localism?


Caroline Spelman, the Shadow local government and communities secretary has decided to go into bat for the owners of crap local papers. You know the ones - not much news and a declining readership of mostly elderly folk.

Now local councils have realised that communicating with the public - a duty of theirs - is not well served by relying on local papers that two-thirds or more of local residents don't read. These Councils produce their own newspapers - Bradford does this with the (multi-award winning) Community Pride.

However, Ms Spelman is entitled to her opinion. If she thinks local newspapers are fab that's just dandy. But what she's proposing - changing the law to stop local councils producing their own news sheets - is wrong. And none of her business. If local councillors decide that this approach is best for the residents they serve that should be their choice. Of course if those residents agree with Caroline they can vote someone else in, collect petitions, write to the paper or whatever.

Caroline - our policy is called LOCALISM, That means it's our bloody decision not yours. Understand?

(Editors note: my wife is Advertising Director for a local newspaper and has approved this post)

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Plan...(with apologies to those chaps with the book)


"Fluff had a plan, a most marvellous plan,
For a picnic party one day.
So Whiskers, the youngest was sent to enquire
What Mrs. Bunnykins would say."

Courtesy of rare Ladybird Books

(*editors note: this is the opening verse from "Bunnikin's Picnic Party" published in 1940 - it is of profound relevence and importance to saving the world from BAD POLITICIANS AND STUFF)

(*editors note 2: my wife learnt to read using this book (such things were rare in 1950s Nigeria) which perhaps explains a great deal)


Wednesday Whimsy: saving trolls

I want to rescue trolls – not that they’re especially nice creatures but it rather annoys me that unpleasant, rude, interfering and often anonymous frequenters of on-line comment environments have muscled in on the act.

For the record this is what a troll is:

“The average troll stands nine feet high and weighs roughly 500 pounds, though females tend to be a bit larger than males. The hide of trolls is rubbery, and usually either moss green, putrid grey, or mottled gray and green. Their coarse hair is typically iron grey, or greenish-black.

Trolls initially seem to be somewhat shorter, due to their sagging shoulders and tendency to hunch forward. They walk with an uneven gait, and their arms dangle and drag the ground when running. Despite this apparent awkwardness, trolls are quite agile.

Trolls are infamous for their regenerative abilities, able to recover from the most grievous of wounds or regenerate entire limbs given time. Severing a troll's head results merely in temporary incapacitation, rather than death. After cutting off a troll's head or other limbs, one must seal the wounds with fire or acid to prevent regeneration. Because of this, most adventurers will typically carry some sort of implement capable of creating fire.”

Or maybe not....

...some trolls live under bridges and scare less experienced goats, while others just look like big ugly humans (with a penchant for raw flesh). What ever, trolls are not spotty teenagers with nothing better to do than annoy folk on line, trolls are not self-appointed queens of snide and trolls are not irritating automated bots sending out crap spam.

I suspect there might be a better word for these people so trolls can be left in peace to annoy goats, waylay passing parties of adventurers, eat up small children and generally deliver on their mission of being rather nasty mythological beasties.


Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Be a social organisation? Fetch the axe, prepare to repel boarders!


There are times with the tic beside the eye sets in, the mists fall and you head to get the axe from the shed.

This is good friend Julian Dobson charmed me into this link: "A Manifesto for the Social Organisation".

So what does it say?

"The music that surrounds us is becoming ever more rich, complex, and dissonant, as climate, ecological, economic, organizational, legislative, technological, and demographic change add their intertwining melodies to the song. We need to be more organizationally agile than ever before to stay in the dance."

Excuse me what in heaven's name is this all about? So far not a good start...but there's more it talks of "...theory-u, world cafe, holacracy, collaborative networked organizations..." Oh my God they're speaking foreign - Californian foreign! (Stops for breath at the sheer indulgence of nonsense that this implies). We now get...

"A shift from the I to the we, into thinking like a swarm."
(I do recommend Neal Stevenson's "The Cryptonomicon" to this folk - it will put them off the hive mind rubbish I hope)

"Leverage the wisdom of your tribe."
(help me please, help me - where to they get this stuff from?)

"Because authentic relationships are built upon care, not upon control."
(what is more controlling than a hive - a collective entity serving a collective entity? And authentic relationships work on mutual benefit not care or control or fairy dust)

"Information doesn’t just want to be free, it wants to breed and mutate."
(excuse me? Information doesn't want anything - anthropomorphic treatment of rabbits is OK for kids but to do it for a bundle of data, stupid)

It is hard to comprehend the depth of ignorance - about hives, about social capital, about incentive...about most of what we know about the dynamics of society. But these guys have managed it - and to think that The Idea Hive who spawned such la-la land thinking:

"...offers research, consulting and facilitation services to businesses and organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond."

If this is the future God help you all. I'll be in my shed, with my axe.


Can we stop funding religions from taxpayers money please...

It was that UK's first "Inter Faith Week" last week and we find (the occasionally sensible but not this time) Communities Minister, John Denham saying we need a:

“deeper and broader relationship between Government and faith communities”.

And some places (like Regeneration & Renewal magazine) have got all silly and excited saying crap like:

"Because faith is a fact of life, just as all differences are, and people of faith surely have a right to be represented by government in the same way other minorities are."

This is really wrong - both factually and in its implications. But worse they are supporting this:

"Denham confirmed that £2 million in funding would be made available for faith-based community groups and announced a new panel of religious experts has been set up to advise Whitehall."

Spending our money on religion - that is wrong....and letting these assorted (and mostly self-appointed) religious leaders have a role in "advising" Whitehall should be stopped.


Faking offence, pointless apology and how Maggie continues to defeat the left


As is often the case with these things we’ve got swept along in silliness as a result of some faux offence taken by eminent blogger, Tory Bear over some tasteless comments from a Barnsley Councillor, Tim Cheetham about Margaret Thatcher’s demise – comments cast still further out into the world by Ellie Gellard who has made the use of “snide” into a (rather unpleasant) tool of political campaigning.

There are however some real concerns here – firstly about fake offence, secondly about “apologising” and thirdly about Margaret Thatcher.

We undermine our criticism of those who leap to take advantage from being offended if we adopt the same position for political gain. I suppose Cllr Cheetham should know better but who am I to talk? And what we do in taking this faux offence is play the left’s game of victimhood. Was Tory Bear really so offended by the tasteless joke or did it just become a reason for having a go – for calling for apologies

Which brings us to apologies – I was always told that forgiveness only comes when the apology is meant. Again we see the use of apology – and calls for apology – as a political tool. Had Cllr Cheetham grovelled, squirmed and said “ever so, sorry Mr Bear” would he have meant it? Or would it have just been a necessary act in his mind? And since there is no evidence that the offence is sincere why should Tim and Ellie compound the dishonesty by apologising? And isn’t the likeliest person to be offended Margaret Thatcher?

And so to why the left should move on from Maggie-bashing. It’s nearly 20 years since the great lady left office – 12 of which years having been under a Labour Government. For most of those involved in this spat, Maggie is but a memory – even if they were born before 1990 there memories are those of a small child or those transferred across the generation from parent to child. Yes the scars of deindustrialisation, the impact on places like Barnsley of pit closure continue to inform us about the politics of such places (although when Labour gets just 26% in a by-election in Rossington – a classic pit village – it does seem the memory is fading). But the left should look forward – to how their ideas might influence the shape of tomorrow’s world not backwards to dreams of a place that’s gone and won’t come back.

I never considered myself a “Thatcherite” – altogether too whiggish, too Gladstonian for my tastes. But those ten years transformed my country – painfully for sure but changed nonetheless – and made it possible for the small battalions to climb back out of the place they were hiding. Championing those folk is the challenge for me – and it should be something both left and right can support. We do not need big institutions, grand national organisations – we need things local, people-sized, participatory and independent of big government.


Monday, 23 November 2009

Why we needed Maggie.....starting with the Russian spy who owned the Labour Party

Welcome to the Nessie Recession?


Ian Pearson from Futurescape is predicting a "Loch Ness Monster" recession:

"...rather than a double dip, our view is that we are looking at more of a roller-coaster decade in which we will see regular rises and falls in different economies around the world. Our colleague Ian Pearson refers to this as a ‘Loch Ness Monster’ downturn – with uneven peaks and troughs emerging with very little warning. The pain will be felt quite unevenly – those economies that have done most to curb or prevent their banking system from entering into huge leveraged debt transactions and complex high volatility derivatives contracts are likely to fare best – or suffer the least relative pain."

And in support of this a report from Société Générale is cited that warns clients:

" prepare for a possible "global economic collapse" over the next two years. They highlighted that total US public and private debt was now 350 per cent of GDP and many years of deleveraging would be inevitable – even without further shocks. The report warns that even without any new public spending, within two years, government debt would rise to 125 per cent of GDP in the US and the Eurozone, 270 per cent in Japan and 105 per cent in the UK."

So batten down the hatches guys - and if you're in business: stick to the knitting!


Sunday, 22 November 2009

BNP strongest in places with large muslim populations? Er...nope.


Various folk have been going on about how the BNP are strongest in Muslim areas. The very lovely Al Jahom quotes Melanie Philips saying that these racist prats are strongest...

" areas of high Pakistani and Bangladeshi concentration — but significantly, not where there are concentrations of Indians. Strikingly, BNP support actually falls away steeply in Afro-Caribbean areas."

The evidence for this is an old Manchester University study that (quite crucially) contains no current psephological data relying instead on an old Ipsos-MORI poll and a literature search.

All this suits the agenda of folk like Melanie Philips who want us to believe it's all about Muslims but while that is a big element the statement above is false.

1. The BNP's biggest success has been in the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham where they won 12 seats in 2007

2. Other areas where the BNP has performed well include Rotherham, North West Leicestershire, Nuneaton and Barnsley. None of these areas (perhaps with the exception of Rotherham) have large Muslim populations.

3. The BNP's first breakthroughs - in Bradford, Oldham & Burnley did reflect a response to rioting in largely Muslim areas. But since this time the BNP has declined in these areas.

We can keep sticking our fingers in our ears and singing la-la-la if we like but I take the view that simply saying; "it's muzzies innit" doesn't stack up - that is a factor but has to be set against a host of others like housing policies, unemployment, a crap Labour government and a dreadful bunch of lying MPs.

Finally the BNP will not get 5% of the popular vote come the general election and their best performances are unlikely to see them exceed 15%.

Oh and Melanie, where is Nick Griffin going to stand at the General Election? Oh yes...Barking - right bang in the old NF East London heartland.

Update: This link - in the comment below - is interesting (although it doesn't answer the question) in that it maps non-white population against BNP membership.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Off to the marshes.....

Returning back to my roots for a day or two so you'll have to get by without me. I'm sure you'll cope!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Friday Fungus: Death cap and some thoughts on poisoning

This is the Death Cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) - harmless looking chap but as it says here:

"This is one of the most poisonous European toadstools. All parts of the fungus are deadly, and it should never be eaten. The cap is typically yellowish to olivaceous green, sometimes paling almost to white, usually with darker streaks radiating outwards. It is convex at first, but becomes flattened as it ages, and may develop a sickly sweet smell. The gills underneath the cap are white, and the white stem has a distinct ring, although this may become damaged or lost. The base of the stem bulges into a 'bulb', which is covered by a white sheath known as a volva."

And I guess this is why we're a bit twitchy about eating wild sourced fungi - one might just be a death cap. In truth though very few fungi poisonings are reported (the NHS doesn't have any statistics on this which suggests it's pretty unusual). We also know from US studies that roughly 9 in 10 cases of poisoning from mushrooms are accidental with most of these involving children under 6 years old. The conclusion of Nordt & Manoguerra after a five-year study in California was that:

"Most mushroom exposures were acute and unintentional and occurred in children younger than 6 years. Major toxic reactions or death was uncommon."

And although the authors don't quite say this, I suspect that alot of the young children who ate mushrooms were taken to casualty as a precaution by wise parents.

So remember to check that your source is knowledgeable or if collecting your own that you only pick those mushrooms you are absolutely sure you can eat. Enjoy!


Thursday, 19 November 2009

Copyright, patents and bloody lawyers


I'm a fan of copyright and the protection of intellectual property - given that I'm sitting in a house paid for from earnings in publishing, advertising and marketing it's hard not to take such a view. The creators of something do have the right to seek protection from those who would exploit that creation without permission. And as we all know the rights we have - and the protection of those rights don't come for free.

But there is a real problem with our copyright and IP laws - a problem that isn't solved by Peter Mandelson sucking up to billionaire yacht-owners. They are being turned into tools of suppression rather than protection. Just take the case of the Underground Restaurant - a charming institution that I've never eaten at (for no reason than it being in London a place I try to avoid most of the time).

Today Ms Marmite Lover the proprietor (if that's the right world for the organiser of a transitory, peripatetic eatery) told us that lawyers representing the London Underground were unhappy with her use of the word "underground" and (I assume) a mash-up of the iconic London Underground logo.

This follows on from lawyers representing Warner Brothers threatening dire retribution if a Harry Potter theme was used for one restaurant event. I mean exactly how does that damage the brand?

So would you like to join me in writing to the Chairman of Transport for London - the lovely Boris Johnson asking him to call off his lawyers and tell his officers to focus on rather more important matters (which you may all choose according to you preference)

Boris Johnson
Mayor of London
Greater London Authority
City Hall
The Queen's Walk
London SE1 2AA


Reasons to Vote Tory No. 1: Ed Balls, education and free schools


I have never been an adult customer of our state education system (I attended a state grammar school myself but the nutcases running education scrapped them) - we took a little peek at it back around 1993 and opted out. Now I know this option isn't there for most parents and they have to use a system that regiments, directs and, for many less able children, offers little but the scrapheap of semi-literacy.

But for the truly awful Ed Balls the last vestiges of parental control over their children's education will have to go - so home schooling is out. Or rather not out but inspected to death - complicated forms, self-important visiting experts, endless safeguarding checks and all the unpleasant paraphernalia of bureaucracy will do the job.

...and the kids? Will they be better educated, will they have more life chances? Nah.

In contrast Michael Gove's proposals for free schools present a new opportunity - and are the main reason for voting in a Conservative Government.


Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Queen's Speech - a translation


In recent weeks I have been at meeting discussing housing policy, working with young people, employment programmes, the future of charities and the "third sector", planning controls and culture. No-one is interested in what the current Labour Government plans to do - and I mean no-one - because they all know it'll be gone in a few months.

I was going to give a little bill-by-bill assessment - but you know, I can't be bothered. I gather the speech was something like this:

"Bankers are bad and my Government will kick them around a bit without really changing anything so as to get some headlines. But my Government thinks government is good and will pass a law to say so.

My Government will spend a lot of money they haven't got on buying the votes of - sorry providing free care for - some older people and their families. My Government also likes children and will provide suitcases and sleepovers for those in care - plus a set of yet to be specified guarantees.

My Government believe criminals are nearly as bad as bankers so will kick them around a bit too - but not quite as much. My Government also thinks people who watch films on their computers are bad too - at least that's what friends of the Secretary of State for Business tell us from their Greek-based yachts. These people will have their Internet taken away until they promise to behave.

My Government will pass a law supporting a technology that doesn't work so as keep MPs from former mining communities happy. And my Government will act to make everyone except straight white men with posh accents more equal

My Government will also publish Bills to reform the House of Lords, discourage bribery, abolish child poverty by 2010 and commit to spending more and more cash on international aid but has no intention of passing these into law having secured political advantage."

The good news is that most of this rubbish won't happen. The bad news is that we're to spend the next six months wasting time, money and newsprint on discussing this excuse for a legislative programme.

As I said before - can we have a bloody election, NOW!


(More) Wednesday Whimsy: serendipity


  • Blogged about ghosts and fairies this morning and found myself talking about ghosts & fairies in a session on culture and place-making
  • Left this session and ran into one of the guys behind bringing the Bollywood Awards to Yorkshire - he wanted to talk about culture & regeneration
  • Called in at a small hotel where I'd left my scarf on Friday night - seated there were some folk I know. And they wanted to talk about some Afro-Caribbean culture stuff and about Zimbabwe, asylum and the Home Office - linking right into the day job along with Kurds and Somalis
  • Opening my e-mails once home to see one from another friend (and Conservative PPC) who owns the building that houses the Kurdish Mosque, restaurant and community centre in Leeds - right alongside the new Zim centre.

Chance encounters. Serendipity.

Wednesday Whimsy: why I believe in Fairies

It has long struck me as odd that it is socially acceptable to believe in ghosts but considered a sign of utter madness to believe in fairies!

Of course it was not always so as a couple of girls in Cottingley showed - sensible grown men and women were taken in (maybe distracted by the day job of getting thousands of Frances and Elsie's neighbours blown to bits in Belgium) by their pictures of real live fairies!

It does however strike me that fairies are far more believable and understandable than ghosts - which makes absolutely no sense at all to me. At least I can see a route back to belief in the spirits of stone and tree and stream - things that may have no reality but which chime with our love of anthropomorphic representation. Indeed this humanising of the non-human seems a huge part of our modern culture perhaps suggesting that Paul Jennings was not so far off the mark with his spoof philosophy - resistentialism. "Les chose sont contra nous" - Jenning wrote: and do we not echo that every day in our talk of bugs and gremlins, fates and breakdown?

Surely these are modern day nature spirits - the 21st century fairies. Far more real than ghosts - merely things to scare or else reflecting a fearful realisation that our time on this earth is short and we have no idea what does or doesn't happen after.

So yes, I'm prepared to believe in fairies. But ghosts - no way, no such thing.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Ed "Santa Claus" Balls to write to kids....about suitcases & sleepovers


"Children’s Secretary to write to every child and young person in care" which he will tell them they can have "suitcases and sleepovers" and that the Government proposes to change the law to make this happen.

...and will those children in care (the one's who can read at least) be impressed with being put...

"in the driving seat for reform, by empowering them to directly contribute to making the care system better."

Some how I suspect that's not quite the pressie the little dears are expecting...


I blame it on Paxman....


This morning I heard:

Angela Rippon interviewed on dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease


A Dutch sports reporter being asked about a bizarre medical procedure on Van Persie’s ankle

When did journalists get to be experts on anything? Let alone medicine!


Monday, 16 November 2009

It's an election we want Nick...and we want it now!


Nick Clegg clambered up onto the limited soap box provided by the Independent to get all radical and angry about the Queen's Speech.

...and what does he want?

1. Fixed term parliaments - so MPs get a solid four or five years to feather their nests?
2. State funding for politics - so all the aspirant MPs can get cushy jobs at party HQ
3. An electoral system designed to give the Lib Dems a permanent hold over Government
4. A House of Lords filled with still more washed up old hacks
5. A "code of conduct" for candidates - as if the electorate can't spot the scumbags

Nick, you're a nice man and they say you're very bright...but what people want is an election. And they want it now!


Sunday, 15 November 2009

Regeneration: just give us the money and go'll be good!

David Barrie runs a company that does this:

...designs, directs and consults on initiatives that enable transformational change and capital growth in cities and communities

Anyway David Barrie knows a lot about regeneration and has said in his blog that: Urban regeneration needs a new narrative

I’m not so sure what we need is a “new narrative” (whatever that means) in regeneration but rather a considered review of the economic geography underlying the continuing challenges that face us as a society. And to ask whether the acronym soup managing regeneration – RDAs, HCA, BURA, CLG, LOCOG, LGA and so forth – are helping or hindering the process. And to ask at what level we deliver regeneration and for whom.

The truth of economic geography
If you map the poorest places in England in 1968 – when as we all know “poverty was rediscovered” and urban regeneration began – and compare that map to the poorest place in England 40 years later there is an enormous overlap. All those carefully targeted regeneration millions have served to change very little. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation produced such as study, “Poverty, Wealth & Place in Britain: 1968-2005” – and on page 38 of the main report are a set of maps that should make every regeneration guru and poverty campaigner hang their heads in shame. They demonstrate that our chosen preference in regeneration – targeting extra cash resource (controlled by us regeneration experts) towards carefully defined “deprived” places has failed.

To illustrate this let me tell you the story of Robert Brown. Robert’s from inner city Leeds - born in Harehills and brought up mostly in Chapeltown. When I knew him as a young ideological researcher he always swore he would not desert his “roots” and would stay in Chapeltown. Some while later I ran into Robert again – and where was this older, more successful researcher living? Harrogate. And why? Because he had a family and didn’t want the risks of bringing them up in a place with violence, drugs and crap schools.

The hindrance of the agency
Regeneration agencies are too often arrogant, directed by central policy not local need and subject to the problems that come with manipulation for local political gain. No matter how we try to be inclusive, to allow “participation”, we end up with a load of initials competing and coalescing in a mad world of bids, paperwork, reporting and review. A mad world that keeps many of us in well paid jobs trying to translate that gobbledegook so ordinary people can understand it better (or maybe at all) - and maybe get just a little benefit from all the spending.

OK I hear your mutterings: “Simon’s an elected member and would say all that. He just wants to be in charge, that’s all.” (As an aside when did this horrible term “elected member” come into vogue? The word you want is Councillor – simple, eh!). Well no – I would like ordinary folk to be allowed to get on with stuff, to be supported and to make their own choices about the places where they live. Not to have choices foisted on them by well-meaning apparatchiks who have no real or long-term interest in that local place. And bear in mind that – unlike all the regeneration gurus – I have to put myself up for election.

In his blog David Barrie tips us “new mutualism” and public service partnerships. These all sound very grand – the John Lewis approach (a good piece by Janet Daley in today’s Sunday Telegraph on this). But the flaw in this line is the continuing denial of a role for competition. John Lewis succeeds not because it is a worker-owned business but because it is good at what is does in a very competitive market (and please can we stop calling it a social enterprise – it’s no more one of those than Tesco - it makes profits and pays dividends to its owners; it's what businesses do). Government – and the regeneration moths fluttering round its every word – obsess about structures, business models and processes. Just give communities the money and trust them to do good work with that cash - and work for those communities not big agencies, consultancies or on the development of important national strategies.

Consumer-led regeneration avoids producer capture
We do not need assorted RDAs, we do not need the HCA or the TSA or any of the regeneration quangos. And we don’t need national strategies, regional economic strategies (all of which are the same any way) and all the paraphernalia of modern regeneration. We also need to stop listening to Eversheds, CBRE, DTZ and all the other private consultancies. They’re very clever but just want to get nice big consultancy contracts when all is said and done. These are producers not consumers of regeneration.

This producer capture of regeneration delivery (and indeed all services operating outside a competitive environment) is the problem. Changing the organisational model changes nothing unless it increases the power of consumers (that’s you and me folks) – it may create a different set of winners and losers among those producing regeneration services but it does not produce a “new narrative” let alone better outcomes for poor people and poor communities.

A real new narrative would be to see regeneration delivered by community groups, entrepreneurs, parish councils, sports clubs and groups of people who just want to see something done. Do you think all the important acronym-loving folk in the regeneration industry would let us do that? Please - we'd be good!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Two family stories - and why barring people without a degree from nursing is wrong


Family Story #1

My Uncle was a judge. OK, I hear you - "Tory has judge for uncle, surprise, surprise". But my uncle - Ray Palmer - was one of the first solicitors to join the circuit.

So what? Oh yes - my uncle did not have a university degree. He joined a solicitors at 14 straight from school and worked his way up through the firm.

Today a young man from Ray's working class background would find it really hard to achieve what he did - to achieve without a university degree

Family Story #2

My wife is a publisher. She was a director of a leading academic publisher for many years and is widely regarded and respected in the business.

I'm very proud - she has achieved more and contributed more than I have.

So what? My wife does not have a university degree.

Taking these two stories as examples - and there are thousands more. Why are we barring yet another profession - nursing - to those who choose not to go to university. The idea that you can learn how to be a nurse in three years at university is ridiculous - and thousands of young people with loads to contribute are now unable to fulfill their promise and their dreams.

Last weeks important Scottish news

There were two political events affecting Scotland this week. The first was the collossal yawn of Labour holding on to one of their safest seats - Glasgow North East (although 'did not vote' won by a country mile in truth).

The far more important political decision - and one I suspect more Glaswegians know about, care about and have a strong opinion about is this:

"The clubs welcomed the additional input into an ongoing process, however, they were of the opinion that bringing Celtic and Rangers into any form of Premier League set-up was not desirable or viable."

I am absolutely sure that the SNP led Government of Scotland really wanted this response - had the Old Firm joined with Liverpool, Manchester United and the 1966 World Cup Winners it would have been a massive set back to their long term project of independence! How can you be independent when two of your biggest institutions defect to a foreign field?

Sod off Bell - we need political ideas not sanctimony

The Telegraph is reporting that a string of Z list celebrities and sanctimonious, self-important bigheads - urged on by white-suited ex-MP Martin Bell - are to challenge some of the more egregious robbing MPs. say? Rubbish, they offer no ideas just pious froth and platitude. We need people with ideas beyond: "I good and honest and moral. And the other guy is wicked and bad"

Friday, 13 November 2009

Friday Fungus: Tagliatelle con funghi e panchetta

Most of the pasta sauces you get involve mince or some sort plus tomatoes. Now don’t get me wrong I like a nice ragu but you will agree that a change is necessary. So I give you bacon and wild mushroom pasta sauce:

You’ll need:

A load of wild mushrooms (or ordinary ones if you can’t get ‘em wild, we’re not really that fussy)
Cubed pancetta (or bacon lardons which are – whatever the Italians might say – essentially the same thing)
One small red onion (or a couple of those nice red shallots)
Herbs (dried sage is best)
Two glasses of Marsala (one for the sauce and one to drink)
Olive oil
Salt & black pepper

Chop the onion and fry with the pancetta in a heavy bottomed frying pan (with a lid) until the onion is softened and the bacon is just starting to curl. Add the roughly chopped mushrooms (how many times have I told you not to chop them too small), the herbs, salt and pepper. Fry a minute or two and then cover – turn the heat right down and cook for about 5 minutes (while you waiting drink the spare glass of Marsala). Add the other glass of Marsala, turn the heat up and mix thoroughly as the alcohol boils off. Remove from the heat and cover again to keep warm.

You will of course have forgotten to boil some salted water for the pasta, so do this now (and have another glass while you’re waiting or maybe a beer). Cook the pasta – I don’t need to tell you have to do that do I? Mix the sauce into the pasta. If you really, really must add some grated Parmesan or mature pecorino.

Note: On making your own pasta

You’ll need:

Bag of 00 Flour
2 eggs
Olive oil
A large clean surface (some use marble but I use a large wooden board)
A fork
A sieve

Tip the bag of flour onto the centre of the board and make a dent in the top of the pile (like a volcano).

Break the eggs into the dent and add a little oil, salt & pepper. Swirl the fork round and round in the eggs and flour starting from the middle. Soon you will have gooey lump. Remove this from the pile of flour and set to one side. Sieve the flour back into the bag (adding any stray lumps of goo to the main lump).

Imagine the gooey lump is your worst enemy and treat accordingly (i.e. knead it vigorously). You may want to add a little more flour if it gets too sticky. After about 15-20 mins you should have a smooth dough.

Clean the board & then dust it with flour. Get your long rolling pin and roll out the dough pretty thin (OK if you must you can use that pasta machine at the back of the cupboard). Then roll this gently into a long tube. Slice cross wise at ¼ inch intervals.

Unrolled this is your tagliatelle! Takes about 3 or 4 mins in salted boiling water. Enjoy!

Glasgow North East: 29,639 majority for don't care, can't be bothered, angry, annoyed or drunk!

Over two thirds of the voters in Glasgow North East didn't vote in yesterday's "crucial" by-election. So if you walk out there today and speak to folk most of them will not have taken part in what was hailed as a "dramatic victory" by the Labour Party (who clearly are enthusiasts for dull and worthy theatre).

The real winners yesterday were not any political party but "none of the above" - a disparate group consisting of good idiots, folk who can't be bothered, subscribers to the view that "I'm not bloody voting because you're all a shower of useless troughers" and (this being Glasgow) a few who were too drunk to care.

The adjusted result therefore:

Not Voting (various): 41,870 (67%)
Labour: 12,231 (20%)
SNP: 4,120 (7%)
Conservative (2%)
BNP 1013 (2%)
Solidarity 794 (1%)
Lib Dem 474 (1%)

Majority for don't care, can't be bothered, angry, annoyed or drunk: 29,639

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Propping up declining political parties is not why we elect MPs or pay taxes

It’s time for some honesty about political parties. They are dying out. Only the ambitious and the anorak join them now. And ordinary folk just use them as a cipher for voting choice that compromises the discussion of the issues and the effectiveness of our democracy.

There are currently 334 registered political parties in the UK – I don’t propose to trawl through each of these but have focused on the main ones (defined as those with a public profile and a chance of getting folk elected) excluding Northern Ireland to give membership figures:

British National Party (BNP) 12,000 members
Conservative Party 290,000
Green Party 8,000
Labour Party 160,000
Liberal Democrats 65,000
Plaid Cymru 2,500
Respect 5,000 (pre-split)
Scottish National Party 15,000
UKIP 15,000

This amounts to some 572,500 political activists – to which can be added various “parties” created as vehicles for independent councillors, assorted trots and commies and collections of what we’ll call “others”. Perhaps 600,000 folk actively engaged with the party system that, under current legislation, is a core component of our political system:

“The Bill will help to prevent the use of misleading candidates' descriptions on ballot papers at elections, thus helping to protect the identity of political parties and, therefore, the integrity of the political process. In addition, the Bill will allow, for the first time, a registered party's emblem to be printed on the ballot paper as a way of helping to distinguish as clearly as possible between candidates from different parties. (Jack Straw introducing the second reading)

The assumption here is that we – the poor electorate – are unable to make a judgment who to vote for without the state prompting us towards one or other “registered” political party (you don’t have to register your party but if you don’t all the jolly emblems and descriptions are barred to you).

The problem is that politicians – elected as representatives of their constituents but in reality representing their party – voted to protect the role of political parties because those parties are declining rapidly. Back in 1953 when the Conservative Party had nearly 3 million members and the Labour Party in excess of 1 million, there was no need to protect the party “identity” in law!

However, the real reason for the registering political parties, for requiring all kinds of onerous reporting of income and membership, is to pave the way for state funding of political parties. For us poor taxpayers to pay for those posh London addresses, spin doctors and policy groups – mostly because we’ve stopped giving the money directly because political parties are anachronistic: relics of a different age.

We no longer need to clump together in class-based groups so as to protect our interests – we’re all pretty much middle class with much the same interests as each other. And in the main this interest involves keeping the Government and its agents out of our lives, getting on with raising our families, enjoying the house & garden on which we’ve spent all the cash the government leaves us after tax and not bothering our neighbours overmuch with our individual problems.

In truth we don’t need political parties. We don’t need to spend taxpayers’ money on sustaining the 1% of the adult population who join those parties. And we don’t need special protections or status in law for such bodies. If people like me want to join them that’s our business and we should not expect any privileged status or treatment for the organisation just because they are engaged in politics.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Wednesday Whimsy: good neighbour or busybody?

The Old Sunday School, Wilsden - shows how Parish Councils can help get stuff done

Busybody n.; pl. Busybodies One who officiously concerns himself or herself with the affairs of others; a meddling person.

Driving along Laneside from Harecroft into Wilsden, I was taken by the sight of Jack Clapham trudging up the hill from his house towards a neighbour’s carrying what appeared to be a weeks worth of shopping. It wouldn’t surprise me that Jack – or his wife Freida – care enough about neighbours to get their shopping for them. After all he puts up a poster for me!

I know of others who do similar – not as members of some occult society and not with any purpose other than to do the right thing. And this is a good thing – sadly pushed aside by left-wing folk who seem to see volunteering as some kind of threat to the employment of “public sector workers

But I’m not here to have a moan about the public sector but to ask a different question. A question about privacy and about the busybody – a question made more interesting by Harrow Council’s decision to employ a vast army of busybodies to check up on “the neighbourhood”.

Now Jack Clapham’s not a busybody – he just likes to help his neighbour – but some folk who get involved in “community groups” and Parish Councils end up with busybody-ish tendencies! Let me explain.

It’s none of my business if Mr Jones across the village wants to extend his house, build a new garage or put up a nine foot high fence. It's certainly none of my business if he wishes to pave his front garden and park a couple of vans on it. I might assist a neighbour of Mr Jones who wishes to object – but that’s helping out. The matter remains none of my business. For some who, given the chance to criticise the design of someone’s proposed dormer or the siting of their garden shed, leap at the chance even though it is none of their business. That is being a busybody.

It shouldn’t bother me that the local farmer has set up a brewery in his outbuildings (in fact I think this a good thing) and I don’t give a toss whether it does or doesn’t comply with this or that regulation. But some care not that our farmer is bothering nobody. His brewery is not a proper use in the Green Belt and must be stopped. And does he have the right licenses? That is being a busybody.

By all means go on a Parish Council, join the Community Association, set up a neighbourhood watch or run a community clean up. These are good neighbourly things to do. But please keep your neb out from other’s business when it doesn’t concern you. And don’t be a busybody.

Quote of the week...

From Alexander Illarionov, chief economic advisor to President Putin (cited in this Spectator article):

" totalitarian ideology with which we had the bad fortune to deal during the 2oth century such as National Socialism, Marxism, Eugenics, Lysenkovism and so on. All methods of distorting information existing in the world have been committed to prove the alleged validity of these theories. Misinformation, falsification, fabrication, mythology, propaganda. Because what is offered cannot be qualified in any other way than myth, nonsense and absurdity."

...and I worry he might be right - which is why the Greens and their useful idiots must be stopped.

On worklessness....

I know of almost no-one who likes the term “worklessness”. Not only is the word clumsy but it conjures up an impression of being powerless, even incompetent, certainly unable to undertake that defining societal function – work.

Yet the term has crept into modern usage – not because it is a better word than “unemployment” but because – in the UK at least – that word has become almost useless are a means to describe those who are without work.

The official unemployment figure is currently (October 2009) 2.47 million – it’s highest level for some 15 years. That this many people are without a job is clearly a matter of considerable concern. But hold on…

…this “official figure” bears almost no resemblance to the numbers of people who are “of working age and not economically active.” And this is what the employment pundits mean by “worklessness” – everyone who is without work.

“The employment rate for people of working age was 72.6 per cent for the three months to August 2009.” (National Statistics Online)

That means that 27.4% of people in Britain of an age to work are not working – that is one-in-four folk not earning, not contributing to the economy, just consuming other people’s earnings. And remember the figures don’t include those in full time education – they are assumed to be unavailable for work (although there’s a load of part-time jobs swallowed up by our student population of course).

Some like the BBC’s Mark Easton don’t see part of this (“economically inactive – other”) as a problem – it’s stay-at-home mums isn’t it? Well yes but the largest proportion of those is single parents dependent on benefits (which is why the figure fell less in those Northern cities from 1991 to 2001).

I argued before that something changed in our society back in the 1970s and it might just have been our relationship with work – the break-up of traditional employers in the factories, mills and mines and the different relationship between the worker and the manager. But whatever it is, the change in male economic inactivity – in “worklessness” – since 1971 is enormous. And the significance of this change has been masked by a huge drop in the rate of female economic inactivity.

“Among men, the inactivity rate has grown from 4.9 per cent in 1971 to 16.3 per cent in 2008. In comparison, the female inactivity rate has declined from 40.6 per cent in 1971 to 25.8 per cent in 2008.” (Leaker, ONS)

As the generation who fell foul of the collapse of traditional industry in the 1970s and 1980s approach retirement there seems to be no let up in young men and women leaving school and doing nothing. As the OECD recently reported the 10.7% of UK school leavers “not in employment, education or training” was higher than in all but four of OECD member countries (Turkey, Israel, Spain & Brazil) – and four times the rate in France.

The term “worklessness” – the need for it to be invented – reflects the abject failure of our policy-makers, political leaders and pundits to see how not working is a problem. Not something that can be managed by raising taxes to pay more people, more benefits. Not something that will be solved simply by the rising of the economic tide. And not something that we can’t see because it’s “somebody else’s problem”.

This lack of work contributes to crime, to ill-health, to mental illness, to drunkenness…but worse it represents the desertion of so many people, condemning them to a redundant life sustained only by the drip feed of benefits. If we want those sunlit uplands we have to focus on the challenge of “worklessness” – on making that word redundant not the poor folk it describes.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Can I be ten again, Sir?

When I was ten….

We climbed over the fence to play football in the school grounds (it is only a rumour that we climbed on the roof) & could cross the fields to Elmers End Cricket Club and watch them play – and so long as I was back for tea no-one bothered

With Jeremy Lesuik I got the bus and tube to go to football – Highbury, Stamford Bridge, Upton Park – on our own and paid for from our pocket money. And in the Summer a trip to The Oval or Lords for cricket

Mr Sparks took us to the old golf course to play cricket – on occasion up to twenty or so playing an impromptu game. In bad weather he took us swimming. We walked the two miles there and back to South Norwood pool

There was the ‘Front Room Space Race’ – building the biggest Lego rocket – and the matchbox races: sprints, rallies and loop-the-loop

When the subbuteo men broke (and finally refused to be re-glued) we played the game with my sisters farm set – minutes to go and it’s Sheep 2, Cows 1…

And climbing the cherry trees and digging for Roman remains in the garden (which of course we found in abundance)

Playing cricket with a big plastic ball and the roses as fielders – and ducking my Mum’s sandals when we knocked a flower off

Back then bikes were old, slightly rusty and lacked brakes – but we still raced down The Glade (with my little brother in the old pushchair – and that didn’t even have steering)

…there wasn’t any “Attention Deficiency Disorder”; there were fewer social workers; no CRB checks; there were coppers who clipped you round the ear or, worse, took you home for Dad to thrash; we had no computers or TV and only partial central heating (told you we were posh) but….

… there were clippies on the buses; old men with allotments who didn’t mind you scrumping so long as you helped to pick the soft fruit; lino you could slide on down the hall; and ‘The Clitheroe Kid’ or ‘The Men from the Ministry’ on the radio signalling the approach of Sunday lunch

It may be old age and I’m sure my specs are rose-tinted but….

….can I be ten again, sir?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Precocious Punk Girl Kerry McCarthy

Not being a punk of any sort but having wandered in to the occasional punk concert before I was too old to know better (mostly though I was sat in muddy fields near Luton watching perhaps the greatest rock band of them all) I was struck by Kerry McCarthy MP’s view of the movement - as succinctly reported by that dear old clown. And her claim that only lefties are allowed to like punk rock - presumably Iggy Pop isn't included there.

However, what struck me most was Ms McCarthy’s precociousness (b1965 Luton, Beds) – after all she was only 13 when Stiff Little Fingers were talking of “Alternative Ulster” (and was just 14 when I was sat in that muddy field near her place of birth and The Clash released “London Calling”). As for the daddies of punk – The Damned – they formed in 1976 (when Kerry was just 11) performing first in my back yard of Croydon.

I have a vision of little Kerry, the teenaged punk. Knew a few of those but sadly not Kerry!

The Cullingworth Guide to Better Government No.1: Smaller councils

I have spent an entertaining half hour or so reading the minutes of Keighley Town Council (known to its detractors as Trumpton - although that was a fine and efficient place) and a selection of competing letter written to the Keighley News, that towns august journal of record.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of parish councils and a supporter of Keighley Town Council (although I think it's a little too large for an effective parish). And this post isn't about that issue but about the issue that underlies Keighley Town Council's existence - the creation of the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council in 1972 from a hodge-podge of neighbouring authorities, large and small.

The argument for these big councils was that bigger councils meant bigger efficiencies. And that argument still underlies the ridiculous unitary councils that are cropping up - providing nice little earners for us fat cat councillors. But I have two concerns with all this...

1. Are these Councils really more efficient than smaller councils? I was Deputy Leader of one and saw the scale of waste and inefficiency. Even turning in every day there was no way I as a mere Councillor stood a chance of challenging this waste. Such places are rife with directors of performance. All with their PA, their policy officers, their assistants, their assistant PAs and their admin officers. Plus a vast army all single-mindedly focused on greater efficiency (which would of course be best achieved by them abolishing their own jobs)

2. Are these Councils more effective than smaller councils? I wrote about this a while back and have seen nothing to change my mind. Smaller councils are more responsive, more customer focused and (yes, my dear director of performance) more effective than the big metropolitan councils and unitaries.

So today's modest proposal:

Recreate local authorities at a human level - for Keighley & Airedale, for Wharfedale and for Morley. They can't do much worse than what we've got now, can they? Not too small - about the size of the average London Borough (you know the ones that always come top of the efficiency league and are noted for delivering better services like Wandsworth, Camden and Westminster).

Is religious belief a mental illness?

This report from US media channel ABC suggests that Nidal Malik Hasan is mentally ill and therefore (I guess) not just a normal everyday religious nutjob.

Unless of course religious belief is a mental illness? Hmmm...?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Afghanistan: so what's changed?

I have been re-reading Meyer & Brysac’s wonderful “Tournament of Shadows” – a breathtaking gallop through the “Great Game” and the contest for central Asia between Britain and Russia. I doing so I’ve come across three quotations that say so much about our present entanglement in Afghanistan that I thought I’d share them with you:

The first is attributed to Dost Mohammed the Afghan ruler ousted by the British in the (ultimately disastrous) 1st Afghan War:

“We have men and we have rocks in plenty but we have nothing else”

So why were we there? For sure it was not to serve in any way the interests of the Afghan people. And has anything changed?

The second quote is from Sir Henry Rawlinson, warrior scholar, Tory MP and leading advocate of the “Forward School”:

“In the interests then of peace; in the interests of moral and material improvement, it may be asserted that interference in Afghanistan has now become a duty and that any moderate outlay or responsibility we may incur in restoring order in Caboul will prove in the sequel to be true economy.”

Rawlinson’s concern (and how familiar this sounds) was that Afghanistan contained “…a machinery of agitation…” ideal to act on the “…seething, fermenting festering mass of Muslim hostility in India.” Put simply we should take action in Afghanistan to protect ourselves from violence and terrorism – now where have I heard that said?

Which brings us to the third quotation which comes from Sir John Lawrence – Viceroy of India in 1863 and the advocate of what his detractors called “masterly inactivity” over the perceived threat from central Asian and Afghanistan in particular.

“I am firmly of the opinion that our proper course is not to advance our troops beyond our present border, not to send English officers into the different states of Central Asia; but to put our own house in order by giving the people of India the best government in our power, by conciliating as far a practicable, all classes and by consolidating our resources.”

So there we have it – Afghanistan contains nothing of strategic interest yet some promote the fear of the Muslim mob while others argue that good government at home will manage that problem and that involvement only begets violence and division. Nothing has changed?

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Pakistan has nuclear bombs - and 80 million illiterates

The Telegraph has produced a very worrying article about illiteracy, corruption and a failed education system in Pakistan:

"About half of all the nation's adult men and two-thirds of women are illiterate, even though the authorities have set a notably low bar for judging literacy: the ability to sign one's own name. In a country that deploys nuclear weapons, most adults cannot even manage this elementary task."

What is worse is that Pakistan's education failure puts it below such paragons of good government as Zimbabwe and the Congo (where nearly 70% are literate despite a basket case of a government and decades of civil war). So is it any surprise that parents - desperate to get some education for their children, to give them some hope - turn to the religious schools, to the Taliban?

The failure of Pakistani politics, the corruption of its administration have failed ordinary Pakistani children. Yet the leadership remains complacent:

"Mohammed Aslam Kambo serves as the state secretary for schools in Punjab. Polite and businesslike, he holds court in a spotless, air-conditioned office in Lahore, surrounded by deferential functionaries. He is anxious to deny the existence of any serious problem. 'In Punjab, we don't have ghost schools. I'm sure there's not a single one,' he airily assured me a day before I visited the husk of the school in Gharayband. 'We have a sufficient level of primary schools,' he added. 'It's next to impossible that you will find a population of 100 houses and no state school.' "

There is a task for us in the west to tell Pakistan to sort out its schools - and I would suggest that the huge Pakistani diaspora across Europe, the Middle East and America have a big role to play in getting change in the country of their fathers.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Friday Fungus: Some boletes for you to drool over...

You cook these gently in a pan with good olive oil, a little salt, some crushed black pepper and a little thyme. Don't listen to those philistines and fools who think garlic might help. It doesn't - the porcini taste is killed by garlic (unlike field mushrooms).

Serve with warm, fresh ciabatta.

Food for the gods!!

Fixing the Finances: we know what to do - get on with it please

The consistently interesting Burning our Money reports on Sir Stuart Rose's observation on the public finances:

"It's very simple, we're skint"

And in the body of an informative post the cure is set out:

1. Public spending must be cut by around 15% (ie £100bn pa)
2. Taxes on enterprise and employment must be slashed - we have to earn our way back to prosperity

Simple. Can we now stop agonising about it and get on with doing what needs to be done?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Wednesday Whimsy: why a lottery might be better than elections

Sortition: making a decision by using lots (straws or pebbles etc.) that are thrown or drawn

MPs don't have a good press at the moment. In fact most folk's opinion of the typical MP isn't printable in a family-oriented blog such as this one. Suffice it to say that self-serving, greedy, opportunistic, lying and deceitful litter said opinions spiced up by choicer, more colourful descriptors.

So why do we have MPs? Is representative democracy really all it's cracked up to be? And are there alternative methods of making decisions that are fairer and more transparent? Only slightly tongue-in-cheek I'd like to explore replacing electing MPs to a parliament with selecting an assembly charged merely with making the decision - with the selection done by sortition.

Why you ask should this be considered? Because our system of governance is decaying and we are watching - among the latest scandals - another stage in the rotting of our body politic. And frankly we don't think MPs either represent us or have the slightest inclination to provide us with service. One of the best indicators of this decay is the role, size and scope of political parties.

Back in 1953 there were nearly 3 million members of the Conservative Party and over 1 million members of the Labour Party. These were the two largest voluntary organisations in the country organised at every level - from the highest places of power down to the smallest of local communities. In the factory, mill and mine communities of Northern England the Labour Party was as important an institution as the Methodist church, the working man's club and the trade union - it was part of the social fabric of these places. Similarly in the London suburbs and market towns the Conservative Party, the Conservative Club and the Primrose League were all important social institutions sitting alongside the Church of England, the Masons and the Chamber of Trade as key drivers of these communities.

Today all has changed - the Conservative Party has barely 250,000 members and the Labour Party just 160,000. All the political parties in the country can't scrape together many more than 500,000 folk to pay a subscription. These are dying organisations now dominated by the ambitious, by anoraks and by those who have to join so as to get elected. Yet today Political Parties are brought by law into the governance of the UK - we have a whole election driven entirely by political party label and we stagger and lurch each day towards a politics controlled by the few large paymasters of the big political parties.

We will have to change. And change must be radical. So put an end to representative democracy - it has had its time. Let's usher in a new age of participation and let's do so using a simple, fair and easily understood mechanism - the lottery. We want 650 men and women to decide on our laws? Choose them from the electoral register at random. Better still use modern communications media to select a new panel for each vote - again by lottery and at random.

We will still need an executive - directly elected rather than moderated through the corrupt filter of the dying political parties. But decision making through panels selected by lot is fairer more responsive, less open to corrupt influence and returns us to the citizen democracy we have lost with the decay of political parties as social institutions.

Give people a real role - or the prospect of such a role - and they will wake up, stop being honest idiots and bring in a new more open, participatory age of government.

Worth a try?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Free trade, Cullingworth and the Great Schism (with apologies to Paul Ellison)

My Party has, throughout its history been bedevilled by a “Great Schism”. And each new generation of political activists, MPs, members and debaters has returned to a reincarnation of this vast divide. The knack for a leader – other than getting the top job of course (which is the main objective for most of them) – is to find a means of bridging the gap.

To pin down the source of the schism we need to go right down to the very local. In a village like Cullingworth – still proudly boasting two pubs, two general stores, a butcher, a Post Office, a chemist and a health centre – there are two sorts.

“No I don’t shop at Paul’s his meat is too expensive. I go to Taplins in the market or to ASDA


“Paul’s meat is really good quality and I’m happy to pay a little more because of that and because I know where it comes from.”

Now if we want to keep the butcher – and I do – we need plenty of the latter sort. If all the villagers go to the market or to ASDA then we’ll lose our butcher and be a poorer place. Now there are many – inspired by reading the blurb of “Small is Beautiful” or a Green Party pamphlet – who hark back to a past age before supermarkets. And propose draconian measures to prevent the supermarkets taking all of Paul’s trade. The most radical of these say we should get together with other villages to form a united front against the supermarket – a butchers’ union.

Others say, “just a minute…it can’t be right to stop someone shopping where they want? Surely we need to make the argument for using Paul rather than forcing people to do so?” These people see some sense in getting together with other butchers for marketing but feel that such cartels for protection are wrong.

I’m not picking sides here (although I do have one) merely illustrating the divide between those whose instinctive response is to pass rules to “protect” what we have now and those who prefer the idea of personal and individual informed choice. This is the “Great Schism” in the Conservative Party – the one that divided us over the corn laws, over empire preference, during the League of Nations period and since the 1950s over “Europe”.

Today that dilemma remains – the “butchers union” is set up and called the European Union. This Union has one primary purpose – the management of trade. And for the time being free-traders in the party must grin and bear it. Our time will come because free trade works and managed trade doesn’t.