Archive for September, 2009

Independent Network, German elections and Party Conferences

September 28, 2009

On 25th September in London there was a meeting of The Independent Network. This is a loose association of Independent candidates and well wishers that was formed initially before the 2005 election. Beyond requiring those associating themselves with the name to adhere to a slightly augmented version of the Nolan Committee recommendations, the Networks sole role is to facilitate the sharing of knowledge, experience, opinions and general support amongst members. There are no shadowy financial backers, it is all self funded.
The widely recognised people who have offered close constructive support include Esther Rantzen, Martin Bell, Richard Taylor, Dai Davis and Terry Waite. Two of those named were at the meeting and the others would have been if they had been able.
About forty people attended from all over the UK, many of whom are committed to standing or considering it actively. As an aside – I am also aware of over fifty healthcare workers who are standing too. The age range was from Student Union reps to sixties. Many present had previous experience in local and national politics.
For two and half hours the discussion ranged over the best uses of the Network and some housekeeping issues to do with it, previous experience, present plans, future meetings, the standards to which members would adhere, the desirability or otherwise of forming a party – we decided against, the election of a board – of which I am a member and the listing of things needed for the campaign.
The enthusiasm of the group was striking as was the ease with which people of such diverse backgrounds and points of view were able to work well together.
The Network can be found at: http://www.independentnetwork.org.uk/index.html
The most notable feature of the German elections is not the widely predicted outcome but the growth of the smaller parties, especially the Greens who are now at their highest figures ever. The big parties are losing ground everywhere and not without reason.
Another item of interest is the immediate results that they are able to provide when the polling stations close. This is something the UK could do well to emulate.
A website called Politics.co.uk talks a lot of sense and of late it has been reporting the widespread criticism of the party conferences in general. How tediously predictable they are, how sanitised and choreographed. http://www.politics.co.uk/news1/opinion-former-index/legal-and-constitutional/parties-face-conference-backlash-$1329558.htm is definitely worth reading.
The current popular mood seems to be that Labour seems sure to suffer very badly at the polls, nobody really wants to vote Conservative but they may feel that they have to hold their noses and do so anyway and the Lib-Dems are battling gamely even if no one can tell if a couple of extra poll points will translate into more seats.
There’s going to be an enormous number of constituencies this time where the electorate will have a genuine choice – an Independent. Now that is a development that is exciting, democratic and can lead on to great things – if the electorate is prepared to vote for change, proper change, not just yet another chance for ‘the other lot’ to have their turn.

Positive gender discrimination, The Storm and Mike Fry.

September 20, 2009

Very, very slowly sexual equality in the work place is approaching. The subject is aired frequently. Lip service is paid to the idea. Legislation exists and some countries have done something effective – such as Norway.
In Norway there is now a legislative requirement, which is actively enforced, for all companies to have not less than 40% female representation on the board. When this was first proposed, by a male politician, there was the expected uproar and considerable flapping amongst the industrialists. The lack of suitable candidates was mentioned. The adverse effect on well qualified male competitors for positions was highlighted. Despite all of which, the legislation was enacted and – surprise, surprise – the overall effect was measurably positive.
So when are we going to see the same efforts made over here? Have any of the usual parties mentioned the topic? Of course not, because they are all completely in the pocket of industrialists.

Now, an Independent MP could introduce such legislation as a private member’s bill because there are no ‘money’ implications for the Treasury/Government.
Vince Cable, the Lib-Dem ‘Shadow Chancellor’ and professional economist, has recently published a book called ‘The Storm’. It is a lucid account for the general reader of the recent banking and finance storm that has engulfed the world, starting with the origins of the sub-prime mortgages in the USA and ending up with the most recent events.
To my eye there are two startlingly large gaps in his world view. Firstly, he appears entirely out of sympathy with even the broad brush hypotheses advanced in such publications as ‘The Limits to Growth’ published by the Club of Rome in the early 70’s and subsequently updated. Secondly, though he employs the term ‘zero sum game’ to characterise the position of some critics of perpetual economic growth – which I would not, he misperceives the scope for growth that is available to us.
In reading this book I got no assurance that Mr. Cable is able to step aside momentarily from his economic theory based conceptualisation of economic growth, to view the wider objective reality which is that we inhabit a physically closed system within which any and every possible permutation of the key variables results in the inescapable conclusion that perpetual economic growth is impossible. The additional scope that he identifies, arising from new fossil fuel discoveries, technical advances, changing demand patterns, etc. and which he views as his ‘escape from jail’ card, are, of course, still within the inelastic boundaries of the planet’s physical composition.
Two, at least theoretical, options to break the impasse exist and have been aired in the past, space colonisation and asteroid mining. Both are of no current utility, though perhaps future generations may be able to employ them. Meantime, we are all, perforce, Neo-Malthusians.
Until this Saturday just gone, I had never seen traffic direction by uniformed personnel in Haydon Bridge. The occasion was the memorial service for Mike Fry, the just retired drama teacher from Haydon Bridge High School. He died, at the age of 59, from a brain tumour.
The Church and grounds were packed, with the proceedings relayed on a PA system for those unable to get in. The roads and car parks for hundreds of yards around were filled with cars. The school yard was jammed too.
For a man, in death, to call forth such an enormous response is exceptional but, without a shadow of doubt, he was an exceptional man. Committed, enthusiastic, energetic, warm, painstaking and lovable.
I feel privileged to have known Mike for many years and clearly hundreds of others felt the same.
Teachers matter a great deal to us all, whether we are students or parents. What job could be more important than equipping the young for life? They deserve our gratitude and support at all times.

Germany 2009, Tynedale Care Centres and high heels

September 16, 2009

Having just returned from a cycling trip in Bavaria it is striking to see the difference between a rural area in southern Germany and rural area in northern Britain. The farms in Germany are all smaller scale and very diverse. The population as a whole is much more involved in land management and agricultural production.
A most striking thing is the vast number of wind turbines and even more striking is that as many roofs as possible (barns, houses and factories) are entirely paved with photovoltaic panels – acres and acres of them. Every community of any size has a solar power installation company.
Also striking is the enormous proportion of the land that is devoted to woodland and forest. Almost all houses have several cubic metres of logs chopped ready for winter use and in every woodland there is evidence of more wood drying and active woodland management. Heating rural German homes is carbon neutral to a very high degree as a matter of routine.
The variety of wildlife is great too. Numerous birds of prey, boar, deer, badgers, moles, reptiles… This is the way the countryside should be. Active, productive, populated, environmentally sound and biologically diverse.
Is anyone surprised that the four Care Centres in Tynedale are to be closed? Another decision taken in a remote office with no meaningful consultation. As the population ages we are going to need a diversity of provision for care both at home and in residential accommodation. Recent evidence suggests that the standard of care is better in not-for-profit accommodation – ‘the market’ is not the answer to everything. At some point there will have to be re-provision of facilities by the community.
I see in the paper today that the TUC is debating the merits or otherwise of high heels. From a professional perspective I can confirm that many women pay a devastating price in pain, deformity and disability in later years from wearing fashion shoes in general – not just high heels. What a peculiar society we have created for ourselves.