Archive for January, 2010

Steve Ford’s suggested reading and website list

January 31, 2010

Minimum essential reading – to know what you are letting yourself in for.

How Parliament Works Rogers & Walters ISBN 1-4058-3255-X
Everything you ever wanted to know about the operation of parliament.

Commons Knowledge Paul Flynn ISBN 1-85411-206-6
A back bencher’s guide to the job.

General political

Mastering British Politics Forman & Baldwin ISBN 13 978-0-230-00012-4
A general reader on British politics.

The Myth of the Rational Voter Bryan Caplan ISBN -13: 978-0-691-12942-6
An interesting polemic.

Contemporary Political Ideologies Eatwell & Wright ISBN 0-8264-5173-X
A general overview of the principle ideologies in current or recent play worldwide.

Political Theory Andrew Haywood ISBN 0-333-96180-3
A general reader.

Post-Democracy Colin Crouch ISBN 978-0-7456-3315-2
A polemic that will make you angry.

Independent Member AP Herbert Howard Baker
An autobiographical account of an extinct species – a university MP.

Wyre Forest to Westminster Elizabeth Hoggarth Bewdley Printing Company Ltd.
All about Richard Taylor’s rise to Westminster. Very inspiring for all would be Independents.

A History of Modern Britain Andrew Marr ISBN 978-0-330-43983-1
Easy reading over view of Britain since WW2.

The Triumph of the Political Class Peter Oborne ISBN 978-1-41652-665-0
Another polemic that will make you angry.

Understanding Power Noam Chomsky ISBN 978-0-099-46606-2
A rather heavy going polemic – interesting in places and small doses.

Defense

Another Bloody Century. Colin Gray ISBN 0 29784 627 2
For those with an interest in future defense policy. Chilling!

Recession/finance

On The Wealth of Nations PJ O’Rourke ISBN 978-1-84354-388-6
A polemic that is irritating but provides an insight into the Dark Side – neo-liberal unregulated free market capitalism.

Where Are the Customer’s Yachts? Fred Schwed ISBN 0-471-11978-4
An account of Wall Street around the time of the Depression by a tyro dealer. Plus ça change…

Who Runs Britain? Robert Peston ISBN978-0-340-83944-7
Peston is very readable and this lucid account of recent events will make you angry.

The Storm Vince Cable ISBN 978-1-84887-057-4
Mr. Cable understands as an economist and writes as an economist because he is an economist. This very readable book beautifully illustrates the hazards of a uni-dimensional world view – there is so much non-economic context that remains unaccounted for.

The Constant Economy Zac Goldsmith ISBN 978-1-84887-067-3
Interesting and, for a Conservative, provocative. His words sometimes make me doubt the depth of his grasp of some elements of the topic. If he proposes to walk as he talks, why is he in the Conservative party? Will Cameron give him the authority and backing to get things done? DEFCON ONE – multiple inbound flying pigs!

Environment

Half Gone Jeremy Leggett ISBN 1 84627 004 9
This man worked for big oil – he writes convincingly and alarmingly.

Sustainable Energy – without the hot air David MacKay ISBN 0-9544529-3-3
Easy reading. No messing. Plain language. A good general reader on the topic.

Statistics

Reckoning with Risk Gerd Gigerenzer ISBN 0-140-29786-3
Statistical illiteracy or allergy is the bane of many parliamentarians. This book will get you started. I know enough of the subject to know that I do not know enough yet and this is the book to which i will turn as required.

Websites of interest

http://www.independentnetwork.org.uk/index.html
Obviously!

http://www.dods.co.uk/
Get registered with them.

http://www.ippr.org.uk/
Useful think tank.

http://www.politics.co.uk/
They offer a daily political news digest.

http://www.keepournhspublic.com/index.php
All you need to know about the NHS and its future needs.

http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/
Get your name down on their lists of candidates.

http://www.greenparty.org.uk/
The only politically hygienic party in Britain today.

http://www.conservatives.com/
Keep an eye on the Dark Side and don’t forget to cleanse, tone and moisturise.

http://conservativehome.blogs.com/
The strangest things are committed to the web.

http://www.labour.org.uk/
Not an easy read.

http://www.libdems.org.uk/
The importance of being earnest.

http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/how_laws_are_made_in_great_brita.htm
Interesting overview.

http://www.dosomethingaboutit.org.uk/
A campaigning organisation looking to improve our democracy.

http://www.power2010.org.uk/home
Another campaigning organisation looking to improve our democracy.

http://38degrees.org.uk/
There is no shortage of political activism on the web aimed at improving our democracy

http://www.foe.co.uk/
Useful environmental site

http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/autofrontpage
Well known environmental activists.

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Obama’s State of the Union speech, Inequality Report and Independents are growing rapidly.

January 28, 2010

Obama’s speech
Did you listen to President Obama’s State of the Union speech? He is such an inspiring guy and clearly devoted to doing the right thing, even if it means climbing through politically thorny patches. Not a dime raised in extra taxes on his watch and huge renewable energy and rail projects in the pipeline too. Tax breaks for business, increased exports planned and the continuing healthcare debate – sounds like the right recipe to me.
One of the more consistent messages he sends is the desire for a bipartisan approach to issues – most recently a proposal to have a bipartisan budgetary oversight committee. This is a man looking for long term, stable solutions and consensus. What a sharp contrast to the Republican stance of unrelentingly oppositional troublemaking.
Over the next few decades it is going to be interesting to see how America adapts to its ‘end of Empire’ times. Which party will be more successful in this setting? I have a suspicion that the future relative positions, vis a vis economic, diplomatic and military power, between the USA and China has not yet registered on the consciousness of a large part of the American electorate.
Exuberant heart-on-the-sleeve patriotism seems particularly marked amongst Americans, though they express it in different ways. The Republican ‘red neck’ bloc is especially vehement in this respect and the least tolerant of dissent or change. Unfortunately some sections of American liberal society are apt to view the red necks as dim or even stupid. I take another view. By contrast, I think that they are actually, principally, ϋber patriotic and that one day they will figure out what the Republicans have being doing to them all these years.
This epiphany will be worth having a ring side seat for and God help America when it happens because the red necks are all armed to the teeth and will be stotting with anger at the deception that has been practised upon them for decades.

Inequality Report
A report (An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK, The National Equality Panel) commissioned by Harriet Harman has just crystallised, in documentary form, what most people had know for some time. The UK is the seventh most unequal country in the developed world (for income), with the highest rate of poverty in Western Europe. England is worse than the other nations in the Union and the situation is deteriorating.
Essentially, being born poor and into a socially disadvantaged situation confers a lifelong blight on prospects for the individual and subsequent generations.
The top 10% of the population has 100 times more wealth (£853,000) than the poorest 10% (£8,800). The top 1% of the population possesses £2.6 million of household wealth each – or more.
Aside from the material differences, poverty confers ill health, shortened life expectancy, lower educational attainment, poorer job prospects and many other unfavourable consequences.
The biggest inequalities opened up under Thatcher in the 80’s but Labour administrations have overseen continued decline – even if at a slightly reduced rate. This suggests to me that both parties lack the ideas and motivation to decisively alter this dismal picture. The Conservative plans to reduce public spending will hit the north disproportionately and this can only worsen the picture here.

Independents
‘You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!’

The only problem with this stirring Cromwellian exhortation to Members of Parliament is that it presaged regicide and a dictatorship. Other currently circulating phrases expressing similar sentiments include: ‘a very British revolution’ and a ’21st century peasant’s revolt’. The impulse behind these phrases will, nonetheless, be understood by many.

The scale of the change in this election is striking. There are more Independent candidates and more and better organisation than at any previous election.
Take a look at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_Network
South Shields and Stockton are getting particularly strong Independent candidates and many others are declaring themselves in the northern region.
It’s a very British Revolution indeed!

Photo comment

January 25, 2010

This photo shows all those who had not raced off for lunch. In the middle of the front row are: “the man in the white suit” – Martin Bell. To his right Richard Taylor and to his right Esther Rantzen. I am directly above Esther, in the pale jacket and loud tie…

The Independent Network Workshop group photo

January 25, 2010

Independent Network Workshop, broken society and the election date.

January 25, 2010

Workshop
On 23rd January the Independent Network held a workshop for Independent candidates and their agents in Birmingham. This was a standing room only event – absolutely packed to the doors throughout the day.
Richard Taylor (Independent MP Wyre Forest) and Martin Bell (ex Independent MP Tatton – the man in the white suit) both spoke at length of their own experiences of campaigning and of being an Independent MP. Plenty of laughter was interspersed with some serious points.
The key message was that Independents have an important and growing role in parliament and are growing in number too. There are now six Independents in Westminster:
• Richard Taylor
• Clare Short
• Dai Davies
• Robert Wareing
• Bob Spink
• Andrew Pelling
Broadly speaking they share similar voting habits, they are very active in representing their constituents, they take active roles in the house – including committees and are on good terms with colleagues. There is no suggestion of isolation, inactivity or lack of ambition. They have a role, they contribute and are valued.
The message was that even safe seats are vulnerable and that the electorate should know that it is politics that is broken, rather than society. Honest politics and genuine change are only available from Independents. The political class is the problem and therefore the target.

Broken society
Sound bites bother me – a lot. Politics is too complicated, difficult and imprecise to be meaningfully handled with pithy phrases. The dumbing down of politics points to the true source of our problems – namely, politics itself and the way that the political elites strive to manipulate popular sentiment to their own advantage. The following paragraphs are heavily influenced by Colin Crouch and his book called Post-Democracy – a short but useful book that I can recommend.
Our adversarial system of politics is an unwholesome spectacle, even when functioning normally. It needs to be replaced with a system that requires and rewards constructive collaboration from all elected members. The two and half party system that we currently endure has become a contest to seize and retain power, for as long as possible, by a process of manipulative populism. That is, the politicians say what their closely managed focus groups tell them you want to hear. Your true opinions are far less valued and no proper consideration is given to the issues.
In my lifetime, our form of democracy has come to stress freedom for lobbying activities (in practice, by businesses) and a form of polity that avoids interfering with a capitalist economy. It has little interest in widespread citizen involvement or for organisations outside business.
While elections exist and can change governments, under this model, public electoral debate is a tightly controlled spectacle, managed by rival teams of professionals. These professionals are expert in the techniques of persuasion, and in considering a small range of issues which they select. The mass of citizens plays a passive, even apathetic part, responding only to signals given to them. Politics is really shaped by private interactions between the political class and elites that overwhelmingly represent business interests.
This process has gone so far, that we now find ourselves in a Post-Democratic era – one could offer the counter sound bite ‘broken politics’ but I will resist the temptation. Contributing to the resuscitation of our Democracy will be a key role for an Independent MP.

Election date
Bob Ainsworth may have let the cat out of the bag regarding the election date but if he has then it is one of the best signposted cats that I have encountered for a very long time.
It’s May 6th – until someone says otherwise.
All volunteers are welcome to join the current band. Planning is now well advanced for a campaign but new ideas are always welcome.
Do let us know if you would like me to come over for a chat anywhere in the constituency.

Transport 2010, Sustrans and Haiti.

January 18, 2010

Transport 2010.
Does anyone remember this Labour project from just before the turn of the century? Radio 4 has just had a program about it and fascinating it was too.
All the right ideas – reduced road building, decreased road use, more light rail, more cycling and walking etc. etc – were included. Lots of professional and academic opinion was brought to bear. Papers were published, studies done and proposals sketched out.
Optimism was in the air. The promise of thoroughgoing radical reform was in plain view.
Nothing happened!
Here we are, a decade down line from the events, and in the year 2010, and absolutely no radical reform has taken place. In fact we now have seven million more vehicles on the road than before and cycle routes tend to be more for tourism than transport. Train usage has increased but the investment in local and high speed rail remains wholly inadequate.
Congestion charging is only active in London, where it has worked but it is now being sabotaged by Boris. All the other cities where it was supposed to happen fought shy because of local refusal to contemplate change.
From the transport perspective, the noughties look like a wasted decade to me.
So far I have not noticed any substantive policy statements from any of the usual parties. Simply dusting off Transport 2010 and updating it would be a reasonable start.
Transport is something that affects almost everybody every day and, as in many other walks of life, change is hard to bring about. Aside from a failure of political will to prosecute change I notice a distinct lack of motivating elements in the plans so far. We need people to want to change because they know they will get a personal gain immediately.
The non-ownership of a driving license could be made positively attractive if all those in that position were given cards to use on buses and trains – perhaps free transport for children and young people up to the end of formal education and pensioners and 50% off for everyone else.
Joined up transport would be very valuable. Buses and trains that coincide well enough to allow easy onward journeys would be a huge benefit. Making sure that visitors to the conurbations can return to rural areas in the late evening and early hours is essential.

Sustrans
My wife and I are volunteer wardens for Sustrans – the sustainable transport group that is one of the more effective bicycling lobbies in the UK.
With funding from a variety of sources Sustrans has boldly developed a network of cycle tracks around the UK and continues to build on its success each year. If you have any interest in cycling and you are not already members of the organisation I suggest that you check out their website.
In the years ahead I would like to see a growing emphasis on cycle ways for daily transport and commuting rather than tourism and exercise – though both are desirable.
In Tynedale it would obviously be very helpful to have a straight through run alongside or near to the A69. In many places the verges are wide enough and bits of the original road could be used in others. Haltwhistle is currently developing its role as a ‘cycling hub’ and I have added these ideas to the mix under consideration.

Haiti
The images from this benighted country following the earthquake are harrowing in the extreme. As I write this the death toll is thought to be approaching six figures and the medical facilities are completely overwhelmed.
The tone of the reporting of the aid effort does disturb me though. The reporters seem to focus excessively on the slowness of the response and the scale of the unmet need. The criticism of the aid agencies and the local services seems to take no account of the enormity of the event, the hopeless state of the pre-existing civil infrastructure and the logistic nightmare involved.
I am filled with admiration for those who, from a standing start, have poured material and human support into the country. Three million homeless is not a dissimilar figure to the aftermath of major warfare and, of course, the problem arose in seconds – literally.
After the Pacific tsunami an early warning network has been established. This has required a major international collaboration.
Perhaps, in anticipation of future disasters, whether natural or manmade, the UN could broker the prepositioning of caches of materials in strategically chosen places around the globe. To the best of my knowledge no such provision exists and that is a very strange oversight indeed.

Local medical politics, Google in China and Israel’s approach to Iran.

January 14, 2010

I am indebted to the Northumberland Local Medical Committee (of which I was once a member) for allowing me to have an observer’s role at their meetings in the run up to the election. This will allow me to keep on top of developments in the local healthcare field, especially in primary healthcare.
The meeting lasted more than three hours and covered a wide field of topics.
My overwhelming impression is of ever increasing managerialism and complexity. There was a time, not long ago, when some clinical matters were discussed at such meetings. Not any more. The meeting was entirely devoted to the arcana of centralised management. The degree of complexity and the burgeoning numbers of committees and acronyms is quite revealing but not in a good way. The nurses, doctors and others whose key function is caring are seriously hampered in that role by the cat’s cradle of regulation and imposed box ticking.
Allowing care to return to the top of the list of activities for healthcare professionals is not mentioned in any of the usual party manifestos. Interesting.
Local people will recall that a couple of years ago there was a major bust up between the GPs in Northumberland and the Primary Care Trust. The PCT had developed a huge deficit that it sought to recoup by slashing primary care budgets – primary care had nothing to do with the cause of the deficit, it was pure management incompetence. Further cuts are still in the pipeline from that original problem and now we discover that part of the response to the financial crisis that the UK is in will likely result in a further cutting of primary care budgets by up to one fifth – that’s twenty per cent!
Unless these cuts are reversed, for example by ending the pseudo health market that is crippling the NHS, the outcome scarcely bears thinking about.

Three cheers for Google’s decision to withdraw from China in response to the hacking of its systems. Three more cheers for Google’s decision to stop doing the net filtering that China has imposed. Breaking through the ideological barriers around China and getting democratic developments underway amongst her enormous population, that seems as hungry for change as any population anywhere, is a project to be commended. It is encouraging to learn that the net-savvy can fairly easily circumvent the official interference already.

Is Iran building nuclear weapons or not? Is Iran simply keeping it’s options open?
Opendemocracy has a good piece on the topic at: http://www.opendemocracy.net/paul-rogers/israels-shadow-over-iran.
The “serious regional instability” of which the author speaks might be taken for a mis-spelling of “conscription imminent in the UK” if the next government follows the USA in supporting Israel all the way.
In the present febrile state of the public mood on the Chilcott enquiry and AfPak I foresee major civil disturbance in the UK in response to the start of conscription.
Let’s hope that the next UK government is under no illusions about the limits to public support for warfare not directly related national security.

Weather, career guidance and more Independent candidates.

January 7, 2010

There is a real risk that some of the climate sceptics will suggest that this cold winter means that climate change is not happening or has even gone into reverse.
Climate change is what happens over hundreds or thousands of years and weather is what happens from one day or month or year or decade to another. Consequently 46/47, 62/63 and 09/10 are merely weather – even if the snow hangs about until May. The nearest places that I have found lying snow in May since coming to live in Northumberland are Hartside and the road south of Coalcleugh.
Whilst the UK is currently a handful of degrees below average temperature for the time of year it is interesting to discover that northern Canada, in the area of the North West Passage is actually ten degrees warmer than average.
This item caught my eye:

It could apply to so many of today’s political, financial and business types…
If you Google you will come across a number of excellent websites of both individuals and groups. There is more political activism taking place for this election than any I can ever recall. 2010 is going to be the most interesting, the most unpredictable and the most important for decades – certainly since the end of WW2.
Prof. Tim Briggs, from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Middlesex is standing on a similar ‘Save Our Hospital’ ticket to that on which Dr. Richard Taylor stood.
Independents are the future of our democracy and our numbers are growing daily. We can and must take back our parliament from the political and business elites who collude out of sight and thereby disenfranchise us all.