Archive for August, 2009

Murdoch keen to kill the BBC, Lord Ashcroft keen to buy a Conservative government and, lastly, Bellingham’s hydropower scheme.

August 29, 2009

James Murdoch, the son of Rupert Murdoch, in a recent address at the Edinburgh Festival painted a truly disturbing picture of the commercial future that he desires for us all. A picture of perpetual, unrestricted economic warfare between individuals, corporations and nations in which the only motive is profit. No mention of the role of common goods, plurality other than that which survives in the market or the broader social and intellectual welfare of us all.
His chief target being the BBC, he emphasised the, as he sees it, undesirability of impartial reporting which he suggested was a ‘threat to independent news provision’ by which he means an impediment to a global news domination by the ultra right wing Fox News.
The duplicity in his words is breathtaking – “The scale and scope of its [the BBC’s] current activities and future ambitions is chilling. Being funded by a universal hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered and obliged to try to offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market.” It is News Corps ambitions that are chilling and as for implying that the BBC should become a minority channel – just how unbalanced, in his favour, does he want the market to be?
Appeasement of such ruthless exploitation of market dominance has to be the worst possible course and will land us in a wretched information dystopia.
Lord Ashcroft, who refuses to say whether he pays UK tax or not, has poured millions into the Conservative party in an effort to buy the government of his choice. Not so much a hoped for return to ‘rotten boroughs’ as an attempted coup d’état by force of money. It would be fascinating to know just how much of these millions are going to find their way to Hexham. Do Hexham voters want their constituency bought in this way? I doubt it.
Reform of political funding is long overdue but the suggestions to date seem to limit state funding to parties. Not surprisingly, I regard that as undemocratic.
The proposed community power projects at Bellingham, Allendale, Wark and Fourstones, mentioned in this week’s Courant, are wonderful demonstrations of this area’s scope for meeting the climate and peak oil challenges that the 21st century is bringing. The willingness of local communities to respond enthusiastically is truly inspiring.

Already there are working hydropower plants, such as at Whitfield, and numerous domestic scale wind power installations locally. Haydon Bridge is exploring the options too.

Rural areas, such as Hexham, have a tremendous advantage in the future development of energy and food security for the UK – we can grow the food, energy and industrial raw materials that will be in increasing demand and we have many hydro, wind, biomass, digester and solar options too.

Every householder, land-owner and community should feel that the government of the day and their local parliamentary representative is completely and unreservedly supportive of their efforts to rise to the challenges of the 21st century. This is no time for half measures or hesitation.

Hexham can be a big winner if government can be persuaded to act effectively. Labour has just diverted the proposed new high speed line to the west coast and the Conservatives are seriously lagging in their support for the region – for Hexham and North East voters, the omens for an administration of either sort look more unattractive every day. Neither party has distinguished itself in the environmental area.

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Conservatives and the NHS, Megrahi and cabinet government.

August 25, 2009

A new ComRes poll for The Independent shows that 62% of Conservative MPs said that the NHS should not receive guaranteed increases in funding in the years ahead. 62% did not favour the current NHS model – funded from general taxation and free at the point of use.
One faction within the Conservative party, The Freedom Association, backs the ’60 year mistake’ remarks by the MEP Hannan on a USA chat show. Another faction, the Progressive Vision’ group, has set up a No2NHS campaign.
Insofar as any Conservative policies have crept into view at all, the omens for the NHS look very bleak indeed if they achieve a working majority. Has anyone spotted a detailed Conservative policy of significance yet?
A letter of mine appeared in The Independent on 24 8 9 on the subject of the NHS. Here is a short version:
It is this sort of management derived incoherence (or ‘creative destruction’) that underlies much of the NHS’ problems. Underlying the management is the gross, incompetent, unforgiveable, culpable stupidity that passes for political direction on health. We used to have a rational template for healthcare delivery but no funds and now there is a surplus (literally, in some places) of funds but the template is purposely destroyed and the mayhem of the market has been let loose on the nation’s sick and injured. There’s the problem.

Effective health care delivery is absolutely dependent on coherent, collaborative, rational behaviour amongst all functions in autonomous, locality based, cohesive multidisciplinary teams. No barriers, no wasteful distracting competition, no futile bureaucracy, no raving ideologues/apparatchiks, no empire building, no duplication of any element, provision of all services as close as is practicable to the patients – all the things that sane person would list if asked to describe a practical health service.

Competition and care are incompatible – period. The emergence of winners is inescapably linked to the emergence of losers and yet the ideologues would have you believe this is progress.

The blizzard of opinion that has greeted the compassionate release of Megrahi has been fascinating. Dr. Swire, who knows more about the subject than most people I suspect, does not even think the man was guilty in the first place. This is one of those subjects about which the weight of opinion is in inverse proportion to the amount of information in the public domain, in my view.
There is so much about the Lockerbie bombing and the web of doubt, deceipt and disinformation that surrounds it that remains obscure that the most a cautious commentator can say is that the case in unproven – as they say in Scotland.
If the man is dying, and he does have that appearance to my professional eye, then I support his release. A civilised and compassionate society does not torment prisoners – even if they are guilty.
The destruction of cabinet government by both Thatcher and Blair/Brown has come in for a great deal of criticism in a Lord’s committee. Very senior erstwhile civil servants have been unequivocally damning in their evidence:
The rise of the unelected advisor is particularly severely criticised.
There has been a definite whiff of quasi-dictatorship about Westminster since Thatcher came to power and its been getting stronger.
It’s our democracy and we want change.

High pay, worker ownership and distance to hospital

August 20, 2009

The suggestion has been made that a quango, yet another quango, should be established to report on the enormously high pay and bonus levels that apply in some businesses, especially in financial services.

The response of the City has been predictable. If you don’t let us have the money we’ll go elsewhere.

Certainly it would be better if the problem were addressed globally or even regionally. Following the global financial meltdown of recent months, a number of nations are looking at regulating pay levels. It is very encouraging that the USA is amongst their number. The changes in banking secrecy regulation in Switzerland and Lichtenstein that have just been announced are a good start to international co-operation in the finance field and may bode well for further developments in due course.

The divisions that are apparent between the top and the bottom of pay scales in some businesses and the hostility that is engendered is mirrored in the divisions between management and shopfloor in many workplaces. In order to overcome these problems we should look for inspiration to those highly successful businesses, like John Lewis/Waitrose, where the control and/or ownership of the business is vested in the entire workforce. This does away with the ‘us and them’ attitude and creates an identity of interest for all involved.

When everyone has an equal interest in success and a common focus for their efforts, progress seems almost inevitable.

Such an arrangement could also be characterised as mutual jeopardy – harm to one harms all – but that is a rather negative approach.

It is hard to imagine a workplace that could not benefit from such a stimulating approach. The atmosphere in such egalitarian businesses must pay for itself many times over in enhanced commitment, going the extra mile, mutual encouragement and openness between colleagues.

The move of the new emergency hospital to Cramlington has sparked some lively exchanges in The Courant of late. It is undoubtedly true that emergencies and serious illness is best dealt with in places with expert staff and all the equipment on hand but studies have shown a problem with distances to hospital. One study in particular, done in Sheffield in 2007, came up with the following conclusion:

Conclusion: Increased journey distance to hospital appears to be associated with increased risk of mortality. Our data suggest that a 10-km increase in straight-line distance is associated with around a 1% absolute increase in mortality.

[doi:10.1136/emj.2007.047654

Emerg. Med. J. 2007;24;665-668

Jon Nicholl, James West, Steve Goodacre and Janette Turner. The relationship between distance to hospital and patient mortality in emergencies: an observational study.]

So now you know.

Barking red necks, MP’s pay and unemployment

August 12, 2009

Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP who overflows with contempt for the NHS – amongst other things, is off to the USA, I understand. No doubt he will preach to the red necks over there and try to further delay the health care reforms that Obama is shaping. A blog of his that I encountered is revealing – for unreflective idolatry, no Islamic fundamentalist’s committment to their faith can hold a candle to Hannan’s  regard for Thatcher, the bulk of the comments appended to the blog indicate that there are others like him. Time, perhaps, to invent a term for UK based red necks. Any suggestions?
News that Palin is using phrases like ‘Obama’s death panels’ to advance her case suggests very strongly to me that she is every bit as dangerously deluded as many had feared. That she has resigned her governorship and may run for President in 2012 makes that campaign one to watch.
Other Conservative nomenklatura in the news this week include Alan Duncan. He can’t manage on his MP’s pay and feels he is ‘living on rations’. A jocular aside perhaps but it does bring the thorny issue of MP’s pay into the public arena – again. My current view is that MP’s pay should be a fixed multiple of the mid-point between the national minimum wage and the national average wage. This will keep parliamentarian’s alert to the welfare of people at all points on the national pay scale.

Performance related pay remains in vogue for bankers (compensation and bonuses) and hospitals (payment by results – PBR) despite widespread reservations about its desirability. What about using it in Westminster? Taking Anthony Barnett (open democracy) and Andreas Whittam-Smith’s (Independent) notion of reasserting popular control of politicians, we can establish performance related pay for MPs. Not only would the terms be imposed by popular mandate but, there being an identity of interest, the destructively partisan short-term nature of current politics would be stopped in its tracks.

Make, say, 50% of all MP’s remuneration dependent on a range of measurable outcomes. For example: annual incremental improvements in poverty, illiteracy, crime, inequality, national debt, national energy consumption, national CO2 production, illegitimacy, incidence of specified diseases, smoking, alcohol related deaths, road accidents, public transport use, employment, deaths in the armed forces – I am sure that there are many possibilities.

Sauce for the goose…

Today it has been announced that unemployment is at its highest for fifteen years and one fifth of young people are out of work. Economic cycles persist and cause harm to each generation. We urgently need consistent long term economic planning to lessen the policy swings and the wasteful chaos and dislocation that they bring. Two party politics makes such swings inevitable and needs to be eliminated – which is where Independent candidates come in and is one of the reasons why I am standing.
Popular participation in our participatative democracy is the solution. A clean non-aligned local candidate is not a novelty – Dr. Richard Taylor and Martin Bell have breached the walls of Westminster in spectacular fashion and if we are serious about improving our country and its governance we must pour through the gap in overwhelming numbers.

The view from the Whitehouse, Dr. Sarah Wollaston and campaign expenses.

August 7, 2009

There is an absolutely fascinating insight into President Obama’s view of David Cameron on http://www.politics.co.uk/news1/foreign-policy/obama-cameron-has-no-substance-$1316792.htm
In essence, the man’s a liability to the UK and will be handled accordingly by the Whitehouse.
David Rothkopf, US foreign policy expert and former deputy under-secretary for international trade under Bill Clinton said “I used to think David Cameron was just an empty suit, but it is increasingly clear that the former PR guy… ought to be ditched at the altar both by the British people and by the Obama administration.”
Mr Cameron’s choice of Michal Kaminski (who has a highly dubious past as a member of the neo-Nazi National Revival of Poland (NOP) party) as leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists, drew this comment: “[It makes Cameron] an even more dubious choice to be Britain’s next prime minister than he was before and, should he attain that post, someone about whom the Obama administration ought to be very cautious, pillar of leadership acumen he ain’t.”
Congratulations to Sarah Wollaston on getting selected to stand as a candidate in Totnes in an ‘open primary’. She’s in the wrong party of course but she is probably right to say that her success may well be to do with her NOT being a typical party politician.
The Conservatives spent almost £40,000 on the open primary election, a procedure they are not anticipating doing very often. This highlights the enormous sums they have to spend. Have a look at Blog 7 for further comment on the point.

El Niño, peak oil and chillies

August 5, 2009

The Pacific Ocean is experiencing its second most powerful recorded temperature swing at present – the El Niño effect. This changes weather all over the world and, the suggestion is, this will cause the BBQ summer, that we were supposed to have this year, to occur next year instead. It will also cause increased rainfall in South America and drought in Australasia and Africa, amongst other things.
For once, to the best of everyone’s knowledge, this phenomenon is not manmade. Its effects will worsen the situation for many in the affected countries – countries that are already suffering from manmade global warming and the associated weather effects.
This is a good example of how everything is connected and reinforces the point that prediction of the outcome for global heating is almost impossibly difficult because so many natural and manmade events are intertwined.
The general consensus remains, however, that we have an almost unimaginably large and difficult problem to confront. Every indication points to an accelerating rate of change and the start of positive feedback loops developing in which one effect starts another which in turn accelerates the first…and so on.
So, coincidentally…
Reports are emerging that peak oil, the point at which oil extraction starts to decline as reserves are exhausted, will be around 2010. Oil will not run out, ever, but there will come a time when the effort required to extract it is greater than the reward for doing so. We need to prepare for this now. So much of our way of life is oil dependent, that life without it appears to pose insurmountable difficulties but we are a clever and adaptable species. Having got the oil out of the ground, how should it be used so as not to increase atmospheric CO2? In reality, oil is too precious a resource to simply burn. It should really be used as an industrial feedstock and nothing else.
All that’s needed is the political will to make the necessary changes but at present there is no sign that any politician is willing to fire the starting gun for this, the 21st century’s version of the space race – ‘not because it is easy but because it is hard…’
In line with many other people, we are doing our best to grow fruit and veggies in increasing quantities at home. The process is not without its hazards. I failed to label the pots in which the chillies are growing and so we do not know which are the hot ones and which are the ordinary ones. My wife was preparing a dish and thought to taste a chilli to see which sort it was. She spent the next half hour with her tongue either wrapped around an ice cube or dipped in soothing yoghourt.
A pen and labels are going to be more readily available in the greenhouse next year!