Monday, 30 November 2009
I read this article in the Guardian yesterday with a deep sense of unease. Barbara Ellen is essentially arguing that Madeleine Martin, the 39 year old RE-teacher who was recently jailed for 32 months for having an affair with a 15 year old male pupil should not be treated the same as a male teacher would be in similar circumstances.
Sunday, 29 November 2009
There was lots of sanctimonious guff on Twitter from assorted lefties last night about the Sunday Times story that Zak Goldsmith is a 'non dom'. They even tried to suggest that he should resign as a candidate or David Cameron should sack him. Er, on what grounds exactly? What law has he broken? Yup, that's right, none. His tax status is a matter between him and the tax authorities. If they are satisfied with it, it's rather difficult to see why Kerry McCarthy (for it is she) shouldn't be. In any case, Goldsmith has decided to withdraw from 'non dom' status before the election so that's rather spiked the guns of those who seek to do him down.
Friday, 27 November 2009
It has long been a source of confusion to me that Boots stock homeopathic "remedies". There is no evidence that homeopathy has any effect beyond placebo and it has been tested many, many times.
An Open Letter to Alliance BootsThe Boots brand is synonymous with health care in the United Kingdom. Your website speaks proudly about your role as a health care provider and your commitment to deliver exceptional patient care. For many people, you are their first resource for medical advice; and their chosen dispensary for prescription and non-prescription medicines. The British public trusts Boots.However, in evidence given recently to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, you admitted that you do not believe homeopathy to be efficacious. Despite this, homeopathic products are offered for sale in Boots pharmacies – many of them bearing the trusted Boots brand.Not only is this two-hundred-year-old pseudo-therapy implausible, it is scientifically absurd. The purported mechanisms of action fly in the face of our understanding of chemistry, physics, pharmacology and physiology. As you are aware, the best and most rigorous scientific research concludes that homeopathy offers no therapeutic effect beyond placebo, but you continue to sell these products regardless because “customers believe they work”. Is this the standard you set for yourselves?The majority of people do not have the time or inclination to check whether the scientific literature supports the claims of efficacy made by products such as homeopathy. We trust brands such as Boots to check the facts for us, to provide sound medical advice that is in our interest and supply only those products with a demonstrable medical benefit.We don’t expect to find products on the shelf at our local pharmacy which do not work.Not only are these products ineffective, they can also be dangerous. Patients may delay seeking proper medical assistance because they believe homeopathy can treat their condition. Until recently, the Boots website even went so far as to tell patients that “after taking a homeopathic medicine your symptoms may become slightly worse,” and that this is “a sign that the body’s natural energies have started to counteract the illness”. Advice such as this directly encourages patients to wait before seeking real medical attention, even when their condition deteriorates.We call upon Boots to withdraw all homeopathic products from your shelves. You should not be involved in the sale of ineffective products, because your customers trust you to do what is right for their health. Surely you agree that your commitment to excellent patient care is better served by supplying only those products whose claims can be substantiated by rigorous scientific research? Or do you really believe that Boots should be in the business of selling placebos to the sick and the injured?The support lent by Boots to this quack therapy contributes directly to its acceptance as a valid medical treatment by the British public, acceptance it does not warrant and support it does not deserve. Please do the right thing, and remove this bogus therapy from your shelves.Yours sincerely,Merseyside Skeptics Society
Shockingly, just 53% of Britons can name their MP
- 83% want information about government and public services to be more freely available
- 48% have visited their local council’s website
- 31% have signed an on-line petition
- Only 5% are members of on-line discussion boards
Thursday, 26 November 2009
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
It’s a time for desperate measures because we are in desperate times. I would legalise prostitution. I would regulate it and out of it I would produce billions of pounds of revenue. I could also appoint a working party to look at a form of legalisation, regulation, clinically clean up and taxation of drugs, in a form. (My emphasis)
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Yesterday, this blog passed a milestone. It is now a year since I did my first blogpost as a Lib Dem on here. It was about the BNP leaked membership list by the way and was entitled "BNP List - My Thoughts" and according to my analytics, 4 people read it.
- MPs Expenses and safe seats correlation - update / Has our electoral system contributed to the MPs expenses scandal? (I've lumped these two together as they were on the same subject. These posts were what started getting me widespread attention from the blogosphere and some in the mainstream media)
- I attended Andrew MacKay's meeting and I think his position is now untenable
- "Commentariat vs Bloggertariat" event review - #eiblogger
- Fascinating research into public perception of the drugs issue
- Daniel Hannan's opponents are using playground tactics
Monday, 23 November 2009
Following yesterday's poll which suggested the Conservatives might only have a 6% lead over Labour, there is a lot of talk about hung parliaments.
John Redwood has blogged about this today. He starts his post with some very sensible comments about this showing that the Conservatives cannot take victory for granted and emphasising the size of the task that faces them.
However towards the end of his piece he demonstrates the sort of arrogance that I sometimes see from members of the parties (Conservatives and Labour) that benefit hugely from our rotten First Past the Post system. He had already mentioned that UKIP and the Greens were on 3% each in the poll. He then says:
What these polls also show is that UKIP and the Greens are unlikely to win any seats. Their prospective voters can back their chosen cause, or they can vote for either Labour or the Conservatives to help choose the government. If they do the former they will have to accept whatever others decide to do.
Now I like reading John Redwood's blog. He is a very thoughtful and thought provoking commentator. I don't always agree with what he says of course but he is very capable of making compelling arguments and is very well informed on numerous issues including the economy. These comments I have quoted from him however are arrogant and beneath him. There is no attempt to address the underlying unfairness that the fact that a party may get 3% of the vote and 0% of the seats, just an attempt to get these supporters to vote for one of the two main parties. That approach is completely disenfranchising and the worst sort of "vote for the least worst option of the two main parties rather than who you actually agree with" tactics.
In the European elections a few months ago, UKIP got 16.5% of the votes and came second both in terms of vote share and number of seats. This is the sort of thing that happens when there is a system that allows a fairer share of seats allocated for the votes. One of the main reason that many of the voters who vote for UKIP in the European elections do not at national elections is because they know they cannot win! The First Past the Post system has such a high barrier to entry that even a party which has demonstrated very strong breadth and depth of support at national level, coming second in a national election cannot get a single seat in a Westminster election. And John Redwood thinks that all this tells us is that people should vote for either Labour or the Conservatives. Not that our electoral system is utterly broken.
If people want to vote for UKIP or the Greens at the next election they should damn well vote for them and ignore the overtures of people like Mr Redwood.
Sunday, 22 November 2009
With the latest Ipsos MORI poll for The Observer showing a reduced Conservative lead to only 6% (Con 37%, Labour 31%, LD 17%) talk of a potential hung parliament has reared its head again.
Indeed if these figures are put into the UK Polling Report swing calculator then we get the following:
So, the Conservatives would be only 2 seats ahead of Labour as the largest party but 38 seats short of an overall majority.
Before I continue I will just caveat that this is the narrowest lead for the Tories for almost a year and it could turn out to be a blip or an outlier. It is possible that Labour got a fillip from its recent by-election victory and that the polling numbers will return to within the range of the more typical recent trend in the next week or two (i.e. over a 10% gap).
However, for the purposes of the rest of this blogpost I want to discuss the practicalities of a hung parliament and what that might mean for the Lib Dems, seeing as various other bloggers, pundits and commentators are speculating on this today following this poll.
I have seen comment along the lines of "Lib Dems have most to fear from a hung parliament". Indeed Andrew Rawnsley writing in the Observer today on this subject says:
The prospect induces a jostle of emotions: a rare sensation of hope for Labour people, a creeping dread within Tories and a combination of both thrill and terror among Lib Dems.
Later in the same article he says:
For the Liberal Democrats, a hung parliament is usually seen as a dream scenario which would elevate Nick Clegg from also-ran to kingmaker with the power to choose the government with a twitch of his thumb. It would not work out like that. A hung parliament could as easily be a total nightmare for the Lib Dems. Imagine that the Conservatives have the most seats. Even if the Tories were interested in a coalition with the Lib Dems, the Conservatives are implacably opposed to electoral reform, the sine qua non if Mr Clegg were to try to sell a Lib-Con pact to his party. It is most likely that David Cameron would form a minority government, produce a Queen's Speech and a first budget, probably one full of cuts suggested by Vince Cable, and then dare the Lib Dems to defy the will of the electorate and look "irresponsible" by voting it down. This approach to governing without a majority has worked well for Alex Salmond's SNP government in Edinburgh. Cameron would likely try to copy Harold Wilson. He governed for a short period after 1964, when Labour got a very small majority, and after February 1974, when Labour did not have a majority at all, and then went for a second election to seek a stronger position.
I'm afraid I don't buy this "nightmare scenario" for the Lib Dems. A hung parliament is the sort of scenario that the Lib Dems been waiting for for years. It would finally give us a chance to wield some real power and exert our influence on policy and politics in a way that had been denied to us previously.
Let's have a quick rattle through the scenarios and see how they could all result in a "win" for us. I am going to assume for the purposes of this that the votes and seats are as outlined above.
1) In this scenario the combination of the Lib Dems with either of the two main parties would produce a workable majority. This would be the point of maximum leverage as we could negotiate with both Labour and the Conservatives. For me and I suspect many of my party colleagues the sticking point would be a commitment to a referendum on electoral reform. Labour may go for this, (although I am sure Brown would have to go as Rawnsley suggests elsewhere in his article as a pre-condition) although I accept that propping up a Labour administration would be very fraught. However if this was the price of getting the holy grail of a referendum on electoral reform then it may be that my party considered it worthwhile.
2) Another option is to go with trying to forge a coalition with the Conservatives. It may be very difficult to get them to accept the price of a referendum on electoral reform as part of the deal given their implacable opposition to this. However it is not impossible. The referendum could be proposed with the agreement that the different parties could campaign for or against it. Just declaring a referendum need not imply that they wish for the change to be implemented. It would simply be giving the people the option and allowing the debate to take place. Even this might be too much for the Conservatives of course but it is at least an option that could be explored.
3) If neither of the above scenarios come to pass then the other option is for the largest party (in this case the Conservatives) to form a minority government. In this situation they would require the support of at least another 38 MPs each time they wanted to pass a bill so the Lib Dems would be well placed to provide this voting block and would likely have their views taken into account as part of the legislative drafting process. The idea that Cameron could try to corner the Lib Dems as Rawnsley suggests above I do not think is likely to work. It would be perfectly reasonable for us to support the things we agree with and oppose those we do not. If that meant voting down a Queen's Speech (if we were forced into that position) then so be it.
I think scenario 3 is most likely and I do just want to finally explore a potential unintended consequence of it that I have not seen discussed anywhere else.
If Cameron was to form a minority government and then have to use all his political and diplomatic skills to try and govern like this by convincing enough non-Conservative MPs each time he wanted to pass a piece of legislation then he could find he begins to undermine his own case against electoral reform. One of the major arguments against a proportional system is that "First Past the Post" produces "strong government", i.e. big majorities which seem to be seen by default as a good thing. However in this situation, not only will FPTP have thrown up a hung parliament (proving that even FPTP does not always prevent this as its proponents often imply) but its primary cheerleaders, the Conservatives will find themselves having to disprove their own case in order to be a successful government. If they are successful in doing this then one of their key planks against a more proportional system is kicked out from under them, by themselves.
Any of thse scenarios would also of course give the Lib Dems the chance to show what we are capable of when we are in a position to wield some real power and influence on the executive either from inside or outside the government. It would be up to us to seize this opportunity and prove to the electorate that we can do a good job in this position and hence that it is worth voting for us. That is an opportunity to relish, not be afraid of.
I think we can derive significant "wins" from any of the situations described. All it would take is the will to do so.
Friday, 20 November 2009
Correspondence has been released between various protagonists in the saga of the sacking three weeks ago of Professor David Nutt from his position as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
9th Feb 2009 – I received a phone call from the Home Sec in my out patient clinic, criticising the ‘equasy’ paper and stating that her office had received multiple complaints about the article from parents whose children had been harmed by ecstasy. She claimed it was not logical to compare the harms of an illegal drug with those of a legal activity. I explained that for a drug to be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 there had to be some threshold of harms exceeded so it seemed reasonable to explore what this threshold might be by examining other harmful activities. She did not accept the value of this approach and demanded that I apologised to the parents. I explained that I had not intended to offend anyone and was simply trying to put some balance into the drug harms debate. However, under the pressure of a phone call from the Home Secretary in the middle of my clinical working time, I apologised, through her, to any families that were upset by the article. She also asked if I was a “legaliser” and I replied that I was not and had repeatedly made statements to this effect in public.
Relevant aspects of the code of practice defining my roles arerepresenting the ACMD to the public or the media as arranged by the secretariatandacting in the public interestsharing in the general responsibility to consider the wider context in which theirexpertise is employed;acting with a presumption of opennessI my view my actions in relation to the Eve Saville lecture and the subsequentreactions of the media and the government have been fully within this remit. Indeedone could take the view, as I have, that many of them are required by it.I also refer you to the Seven principles of public life one of which is:OpennessHolders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions andactions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrictinformation only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
I'm on this week's "Pod Delusion" podcast again which describes itself as being about "interesting things":
From scepticism to lefty liberal things, it's commentary from a secular, rationalist, 'Guardianista', sort of perspective. A bit like From Our Own Correspondent but with more jokes.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
Watching the debate in the House of Commons yesterday about the Queen's Speech I found my jaw dropping at the rudeness of Gordon Brown. Watch this clip where David Cameron is trying to get Brown to respond to the question of why there was nothing about MPs' expenses in the Queen's Speech:
Certainly there are aspects of the way our political system works which typically appeal more to men or are more off-putting to women, but those are not aspects that are engraved in stone and always have to be that way. Take the bear-pit performances (and I use that word kindly - embarrassing shambles might often be more appropriate) of the PM / Leader of the Opposition exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions, with massed ranks of people sat behind each and shouting at each other. That sort of behaviour would be completely unacceptable in a work place - imagine running a meeting at work where people behaved like that. And there's no essential need for PMQs to be like that - look around at how other walks of life and other countries manage to have question times that are meaningful and dignified.
The more I think about it, the more I am coming to the conclusion that the Fiscal Responsibility Bill that was outlined in Labour's Queen's Speech yesterday is actually a landmine set to go off under a potential future Tory government. The bill will say that the deficit must be halved in the next four years, by law.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
As I expected, the Queen's Speech was a bit of a damp squib. There are various measures in there that are worthy in so far as they go but many of them will not see the light of day on the statute books as there is just not enough time.
The most astonishing measure for me is the "Fiscal Responsibility Bill" which will put into law the promise to halve the defecit within a set timeframe. I have just been listening to John Healey, government minister on Radio 5 Live try to defend this measure and he did not do a good job. The question was repeatedly asked, why do the government need to bring in a law to make sure they do what they have already promised to do? Mr Healey did not have a good answer. It strikes me that the government are using legislation as a way to try to send out "messages" to the markets that they will be responsible. If they have to use the Queen's Speech to do this then it speaks very ill of their reputation. They are basically saying that they understand they might not be trusted and they have regularly moved the goalposts in the past so they are going to put a legislative lock on themselves. It is not clear what the penalty would be if they were to fail to halve the defecit and hence at the moment it is not worth the paper it is written on.
Another measure that made me raise my eyebrows is the one that "gives" parents the right to demand certain standards from their schools. The thing is, as Mr Healey talked through what the mechanism for that would be it became more and more clear that the mechanisms already exist for parents to appeal to various authorities to get the required standards including the Head, the Governors, the LEA etc. As far as I can tell this measure does nothing. It just seems to be a way of looking like they are doing something.
The big omission from all of this of course are substantial plans to deal with the reform of parliament in the wake of the expenses scandal. Callers and commenters to the Radio 5 Live show I was listening to were incredulous that in the Queen's Speech directly following the parliamentary session which has had the worst crisis in confidence for MPs in living memory there was nothing to address this in the Queen's Speech and I expect that feeling will be widespread. This shows just how out of touch this government has become that they didn't even consider it necessary to tackle any aspect of the rotten system in its final legislative programme before the election.
- Breaking the Guardian’s court injunction banning them from naming mining company Trafigura.
- Attacking Daily Mail writer Jan Moir for “homophobic” remarks on the death of gay pop star Stephen Gately.
- Criticising Sunday Times critic AA Gill for shooting a baboon while on safari.
- Vilifying Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan and his criticism of the NHS in the US, in the #welovethenhs campaign.
Reacting to the poll, Prospect managing editor James Crabtree said: “New technologies are often adopted by the political extremes of left and right. It is clear that the urban, metropolitan, Guardian-reading ‘chattering classes’ have flocked online to become the ‘twittering classes’ —and they are now a real force in British politics.”The survey confirms Twitter’s image in Britain as a tool for a youthful metropolitan elite. 46 per cent of users are younger than 35, compared to 29 per cent of the population, while Twitter users more likely to live in London.
But where Twitter users and the rest of the country most disagree, perhaps unsurprisingly, is over the service itself. Twitter users might think the service is worthwhile, but 76 per cent of the British population give the idea a thumbs-down, saying they have never used it and do not intend to in future—meaning the “twittering classes” could have a Twitter monopoly for some time to come.
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
James Graham suggests that given the new chair of the Press Complaints Commission Baroness Buscombe's recent comments about the PCC potentially regulating blogs that it throws up a very interesting question.
A couple of years ago, the MP for Hull West and Hessle was very concerned about the possibility that an asylum seeker who had found refuge in his constituency might be sent back to his country which has a dangerous human rights record and where in the MP's own words it:
would be devastating for him, his family, indeed it could prove fatal... There are few cases where we need our system to work more than this one.
Monday, 16 November 2009
So at the selection meeting tonight, Norfolk South West Tories overwhelmingly chose to retain Liz Truss as their candidate by 132 - 37.
It has just been reported that the veteran actor Edward Woodward has died at the age of 79.
OK, he didn't quite say that but the recent comments from Sir Jeremy Bagge frontman for the Tory traditionalists in Norfolk South West (who are trying to get Liz Truss deselected later today) about women reported by Benedict Brogan here are pretty close to the classic Harry Enfield "Women, Know Your Limits" sketch.
Sorry, no, I have never said I’m anti-women. I have got absolutely nothing against women. Who cooks my lunch? Who cooks my dinner? How did my wonderful three children appear? Women, you can’t do without them. My god, take my wife.
What does she do? She looks after me. Looks after the children. Runs the house.
Sunday, 15 November 2009
Steve Nutt thinks his dad is probably more famous than he'll ever be, BARRING A TERRORIST ATROCITY THAT IS...
Shockingly, instead of sticking a portrait of himself in his "profile" photo slot like most Facebook users, his image is of an orange labelled "product of Israel" - one half of which is a GRENADE.
Photos show her and girl pals cavorting with a bottle of spirits in hand - and were uploaded two years before she turned 18.
Meanwhile older lad Johnny, 26, has posted photos of himself prancing NAKED in the snow in Sweden.
so what? what a load of rubbish! he's just doing what all guys his age do. just because his father is a scientific researcher doesn't mean his son will be at home reading science journals. the important thing is the findings of Nutts recent research on drugs. he is very clever and spent a lot of time on his research only to get sacked and slandered because the findings weren't to the governments liking. the whole thing was a farce.
what's the big deal? at the end of the day, he just like any other british kid.and away, his dad must know what he's talking about about.leave the kid alone!
And those who disagree with the findings? Are you saying that the government disagreeing with something should be the end of it? Even though Prof. Nutt has conducted thorough research on an issue which affects us all? It shouldn't be challenged further?? Because it's not likely that vested interests are behind every decision the government makes. What with the general election coming up.
You only need look at the stats!....hundreds of thousands of people die of smoking and drinking related illnesess every year yet its perfectly legal. You will be lucky if just one person die of an 'e' or a 'joint' this year....things will never change because of the 'tax' issue but people should not be punished for speaking the truth.............and i dont know this guy so why is it news?
"claimed cannabis, ecstasy and LSD are safer than booze and ****."This irritates me, 'claimed' as though it is purely his unbacked theory. Throughout the world the science shows this.Go look at what has happened in Portugal since 2001 when they decriminalised drugs, their situation has become far better! The UK is full of hypocrites who don't know what they are on about when it comes to drugs!
Saturday, 14 November 2009
Constantly Furious has a blogpost today which has drawn my attention to the case of Paul Clarke, an ex-soldier from Surrey who is likely to face five years in prison for taking a sawn-off shotgun with ammunition he had found in his garden to a police station. The police arrested him after he brought it in and he was found guilty by a court recently. The full story is here.
It would seem that posession of a firearm is a "strict liability" offence which means the defendant is guilty regardless of intent.
CF is very angry about this case as are many other people such as some commenters on his blog and many on Twitter. It would seem to fly in the face of natural justice. There are others who are claiming that there must be more to this case.
I am not sure, perhaps it will become more clear with further reports and the sentencing. However if it is as it seems then this is surely a travesty of justice.
As if to underline this, reading the comments on this blog post from Jack of Kent (which talks in more detail about the law behind the case) there is a comment from Alex Hamilton which directed me to this story from a few weeks ago. It describes how in a different situation also involving a gun with ammunition found by a member of the public that the police actually told him to bring it to the station.
Nothing like consistency eh?
Friday, 13 November 2009
For the last few weeks I have been listening to an excellent podcast called "The Pod Delusion" which describes itself as being about "interesting things":
From scepticism to lefty liberal things, it's commentary from a secular, rationalist, 'Guardianista', sort of perspective. A bit like From Our Own Correspondent but with more jokes.
Thursday, 12 November 2009
As an advocate of liberalisation of drugs policy, one of the questions I often get asked is exactly what sort of system would I want to see for how drugs could be distributed if they were legalised.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
I just saw something on ITV news that made my ears prick up.
Q4.  Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Is the Prime Minister comfortable with the fact that nine of his ex-ministerial colleagues have written to him to say that his proposals to scrap tax relief on child care are wrong and immensely damaging to working women?The Prime Minister: We have said—I repeated this yesterday to a meeting and again this morning—that nobody who is receiving tax relief for child care vouchers will lose it. That assurance, which I make here and which was made yesterday as well, is one that people will welcome. At the same time, we want to expand nursery care for two-year-olds and create a situation in which nursery education runs into primary and secondary education from two to 18. However, no Government have done more to advance and support child care in our country, and we shall continue to do so in the next few months.