Monday, July 24, 2006

Is it just me or is the world mad?

We are in Afghanistan as a result of the attacks of the 11th of September 2001. In many ways we have removed a very unpleasant government from that land and that is good. We are working on rebuilding the country and making it stable.

We are also trying to eradicate the opium poppy crop. Seemed like a good idea to me until I read this in the Guardian

Just to summarize:

  • Every time we try to eradicate poppy farming it causes a backlash and helps the Taliban.
  • There is a world wide shortage of medical opiates, some in the UK.
  • Heroin production in Turkey was halted not by eradication of poppies but by licensing growing it.
Firstly, it is good that a Conservative has pointed out this madness, but why has this not been dealt with before? Why are we spending so much money destroying something we need?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Party Funding.

Those who inhabit the blogosphere can't have missed the various scandals around how parties currently get their funding. Guido Fawkes has been one of the main people writing on the subject, and the issue has come up for discussion on

There is therefore the sticky question of how we fund party campaigns.

Various ideas have been floated around as solutions to these problems, in my view they may well end up causing more problems.

One idea being touted is of state funding. Well there are a number of problems with that:
  1. It is not popular with the tax payer.
  2. What happens when the BNP come asking for funds?
  3. It allows the party leadership to distance itself from its grass roots.
  4. How do you dish the money out?
Some people have suggested that we can come up with wheezes to exclude people like the BNP, but this is dangerous thinking. Firstly the old "No platform" thinking is anti democratic, secondly they can use the wheezes as a political weapon to get more votes.

There is also the problem of how you dish the money out? Is it on seats in parliament? Seems unfair to the Lib Dems, though it is a wheeze to squeeze the BNP. What about vote share? The arguments would be endless, and further more the party in power could well fiddle it to their advantage and their opponents disadvantage.

The thing that concerns me most is that the party leadership can then distance itself from its grass roots. Labour have already done this by loosening the relationship with the Unions, but is that a good thing? Is turnout going down because the grass roots are not being energised? How is a party that has lost its grass roots going to pick a new leader, candidates and policies?

There is currently some state funding of campaigns, which consists of a free mailing to all households in a constituency, but only for the parliamentary seat. The candidate has to pay for the envelope and the contents.

Others have suggested a cap on party spending and a cap on maximum donations. This seems most sensible to me as you still need to have a grass roots base, still need to talk to people and above all the spending cap will mean far less money is wasted in the dreadful ways it normally is during elections.

There are also hybrid suggestions such as giving more than just a free mailing to candiates, but not anything like full funding. Well, that may also be a way forward.

What seems clear to me though, is that what we are doing at the moment can't carry on. We are in a strange arms race of dirty tricks, back room deals and general all round mendacity that is poisoning our democracy.

Any ideas for a solution?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Hugging Hoodies! Part II

Yesterday David Cameron leader of the Conservative party gave two speeches, one on social justice, and the other on the criminal justice system. (See links for transcripts of each.)

In the social justice speech David highlighted the need to look at the causes of the problems as well as the need to enforce the law. We do not have prisons of infinite size, so we might as well look at dealing with why people end up there as well as putting people in prison when we need to.

Iain Duncan Smith set up the Center for Social Justice because state agencies do not have all the answers and frequently can make matters worse. The reason for this is inflexibility. Too often a solution is thought to work, and that ends up being the only solution.

In reality there are many solutions which play their part in helping, for example the Army Cadet Force was set up after the Napoleonic wars to keep young boys off the streets and give them something to do. Others get involved in boxing or other sports.

Some are in need of far more specialised and intense care, such as those helped by Kids Company. The fact is there are an awful lot of different sorts of young people out there, in need of all sorts of help, education and interaction. The state does run quite a lot of these services directly, such as education and the Army Cadets. However it can't run and do everything, it is not light enough on its feet to adapt and change to new challenges. The Social entrepreneurs are.

But let us not get the wrong idea, this does not mean being soft on criminals, far from it. It does mean adapting the police force to local issues, making them more locally accountable rather than less.

Lastly, of course the vacuous Guardian reading and indeed in the case of Polly Toynbee, writing classes don't seem to be able to handle a Conservative party that does not live up to there silly stereotypes. As an example see Polly's drivel here.

There is a daft idea that the Conservative party is only interested in self interest and the rich. That is wrong. If that were true we would have been against the abolition of Slavery rather than pushing that through, against universal education, and indeed against all the other projects that have been aimed at helping people better themselves. We just don't believe in helping people to be poor. We believe in helping people when they need help, but above all helping people to help themselves.

Of Energy reviews.

The government is about to publish an energy review. Clearly someone did not like what was in the last one, and in the time honored tradition ordered a re review so that this time it could be "got right".

The Conservative party is also doing an energy review, and they have just published their interim findings.

There is a "video" of Alan Duncan and Oliver Letwin, making a presentation, It seems very earnest and remarkably unspun which is nice. (It did however remind me of the very earnest Mr Michael Foot).

What I thought was interesting, a piece of information I had forgotten was that when the Conservatives privatised and de regulated the electricity sector it had a scheme of capacity payments to make sure there was extra generating capacity available should we hit a very cold spell, get a good world cup run or what ever circumstances cause large peaks in demand for a short period of time.

This government abolished it on entering office. The net result is that now if there is a peak in demand large industrial customers have to turn things off, making manufacturing more difficult in this country. Absolute madness.

Anyway, we will of course bring capacity payments back in when we gain power.

The thing that really bothers me is that this government clearly fiddles with things with out understanding why they are there, and so can have no long term idea of what the consequences of its actions are going to be.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hugging Hoodies!

Today David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party is to give a speech on Social justice. In it he is roughly going to indicate that we need to understand young people more. I do not have the transcript of what he is going to say, but when I get it I will comment further. I will however make the following observations:

Young people have dressed differently since the 50's, and young yobs do no more than wear what young non yobs wear. It is called "street culture". Today it is hoodies, in the 70's it was safety pins.

We are building an irrational fear of young people which is becoming a self fulfilling prophecy as it always seems to have done. Speeches about hoodies directed at the Daily Mail reading classes go down well, but do nothing to help with the problem.

Having a "war on hoodies" makes as much sense as "the war on terror" (See my previous article). We need to be more imaginative.

We also need to make sure the Police don't sit around filling in forms until enough pressure builds that they go and apply for an ASBO banning someone from doing something which is illegal, but getting out there and preventing them doing it in the first place, or just arresting them for it when they do.

Where I live, we don't get much youth trouble, it is after all a medium sized village in the country. However, some people do get worried about the "youth". I don't. I wave at them, say hello, generally acknowledge them and give them a bit of respect. They reciprocate that, so I do not get any problems, and if I tell them they are doing something wrong they are more likely to listen.

Respect works both ways.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The way for ward for energy

Today saw a partial release of what is in the Conservative party's energy review paper. You can read the BBC report here.

It seems to me to follow in a similar vein to our policy at the last general election (Which when I saw Tim Yeo MP on Newsnight he had clearly not read) in that it puts nuclear last.

What it is looking to do is to create an environment in which many technologies can flourish, and then to some extent the market will decide which ones fair best.

The advantage of this approach is that we have no idea which technologies will work best, particularly as someone may come up with new ideas and new thinking.

As an example of the old thinking I remember when I saw a Not the Nine O'clock news feature on a solar powered torch. How ridiculous can you get? However someone oblivious to the obvious ridicule came up with solar powered garden lights.

Tony Blair's key man in the "Blue sky thinking" department was Lord Birt, renowned amongst many Private Eye readers. In the last few years Tony Blair seems to have become enthused by Nuclear power as a solution. He now appears to want to railroad it through.

So what is the problem.

Well, there are a number of issues with nuclear power and I don't pretend to present an exhaustive list, but in my view they are:

  • Cost of decommissioning.
  • Long term waste handling.
  • The apparent requirement for fixed pricing.
Other people will cite safety and terrorism as well.

The first two could well end up lumbering the tax payer with a "stealth tax" as the Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Menzies Campbell has pointed out. The third also falls into this category, but is worse than that because it will serve to stifle new technologies competing to get market share even if they are much better.

That said you can't rule out Nuclear for all time, but we do need to work much harder at renewables.

Just some random thoughts on that matter. Every year around Christmas Thames Water remove 7000 tons of turkey fat from its sewers. This gives them a large waste disposal problem. Were that turned into energy it would be the equivalent of 60 MILLION miles worth of diesel to power a van.

Other silly things. Whilst the rest of Europe still use the tallow gained from rendering one cow to provide the energy to render the next we have implemented a European regulation is such a way as to define the tallow as a waste product (rather than a by product which it in fact is) so that they can't do that any more.

On another note the sun delivers enough energy to the surface of the earth in 1 minute to power the world for a year. You can store solar energy in a heat store rather than as electricity in batteries, and in fact some large scale solar projects are in development that work this way.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What of Tony Blair's liaison committee meeting?

What from I heard of Tony Blair's performance at the liaison committee meeting, he does not understand how to beat terrorist groups.

He did however get it right when he said that the communities themselves need to root out extremists.

Where he got it wrong was implying that some grievances were false.. No, we live in a free country and we need to deal with people who have grievances.

We are told that many young Muslims are being radicalised by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly part of the reason for this is the absolute propaganda gifts handed to the enemy of Guantanamo bay, Abu Ghraib and some of the dafter pieces of "anti terrorist" legislation.

The moderates are the people to do the job, but they do need a hand, and silly point scoring by people like Charles Moore on Channel 4 news last night does not help much either.

We need to make the case that far from oppressing Muslims, the war in Afghanistan has freed Muslims from a very oppressive regime. We also need to do the same over Iraq, but we really do need to stop these propaganda disasters.

We need to make the case that we went into Kosovo and Bosnia to protect Muslims also, because I can assure you that Osama is not going to make that one for us.

As for Darfor that looks like turning into an allegedly anti Muslim thing as well. We need to point out our concern is about oppression, as it happens of Muslims.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July the 4th a special day

It was 30 years ago today that my family and I left Beirut for the last time in a road convoy to Damascus.

We were told that this was the last chance to get out of war torn Beirut. We left in a taxi, with 6 suitcases for 6 people. Everything else we had including our family pets were left behind. I was 8 years old at the time.

The convoy was protected by the PLO as far as the Syrian border as it was the only large cohesive military force available to do the job.

I remember the very long winding journey up through the mountains, in the summer heat in a convoy that stretched for miles in front of us. Every time we came to a village or town with a few side roads our driver would try to get ahead a few places in the column. It did not work.

We waited in a queue at the Syrian border for hours whilst papers were checked, until my father spoke to the border guards and pointed out that all the cars in the convoy had an identifying sticker. Then the rest of us were waved through.

When we got to Damascus, there was no longer any room left in any hotels, so we were put up in the ambassadors residence for the 3 days it took to get a flight. (I suppose we all have to slum it from time to time!)

Damascus is an interesting city. On the outside very un Arabic Soviet style concrete buildings, but much of the ancient center remained and I have even been to the street where St.Paul was taken after he saw the light.

After 3 days we caught a flight to Heathrow, paid for by the Foreign and Commonwealth office. Our passports were with held from us until we paid them back.

So today is a day to remember for my family and I.

I understand Americans have a national holiday today, though I can't see why they would want to celebrate us leaving Beirut!

As a footnote, I would like to than the Lebanese people for their outstanding hospitality even at the toughest of times.

Also I note this story from the BBC about the evacuation by sea on the 20th of June 1976.

I would like the thank the PLO for providing the necessary security to get so many people out by land.

As a bizarre footnote in history, at the same time members of the PFLP and Bader Meinhof gangs were holding about 100 Isreali and Jewish hostages in Entebbe which were freed by the famous raid on Entebbe.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The War on Terror

Well, it is a bit like voting for motherhood and apple pie as Americans would say..

Or is it?

Firstly terror is a technique of warfare, quite legitimate when for example you try to cause terror in enemy soldiers. It is part of breaking morale.

Terrorism, (which is what we are talking about here) is also a technique. As long as it exists in anyone's consciousness it can't be said to have been defeated. Besides which it clearly has worked in the past though those who have used it successfully are now re classified as "freedom fighters".

So in principle the nature of the rhetoric has made the war so wide that it can't be won, leading to perpetual war.

What we are actually talking about here however is fighting some extremist former employees of the United States, One Osama Bin Laden and company.

The fact that Bin Laden's groups were supported by the US and that Afghan Mujahadin took part in the liberation of Kuwait should cause concern. What things you do to win wars in the short term affect the next war you have to fight. We really do need to watch out who we get into bed with for short term gain, as it has an unfortunate habit of coming back to haunt us.

Well, is Osama or Al Qaida a military threat? No. He has not got either the bodies or the weapons to take us on head on. Yet. The threat is political, and when the threat is political so is the solution. I emphasise that because turning up on the wrong battle field with the wrong weapons is a sure fire way of guaranteeing defeat.

What do they want to achieve? Well opinions vary. Some think they want to from a large Muslim Califate covering the whole Muslim world quite possibly in the Wahabi tradition as opposed to the more progressive and enlightened ones that have made Islam one of the great religions of the world. I can tell you that at the moment that would go down like a rattle snake in a lucky dip in most of the Islamic world. Others think that they just want an end to the persecution of Muslims. The truth is of course that they want the former which will have the effect of persecuting most Muslims, particularly Shia Muslims who were persecuted by the Taleban in Afghanistan.

However some of their message does resonate with the wider Muslim community, in particular the desire to see any persecution of Muslims cease. (Surely that's like voting for motherhood and apply pie? Umm..)

How are they trying to achieve this? Well varying forms of terrorist activity around the world.

The aim has to be to weaken their opponents and gather new recruits, which, given their current tactics are very desperately needed.

So what do we do? Well, keep our heads, don't panic and learn the lessons of history.

What is Tony Blair's response?

Well, you keep hearing things like "Tough times require tough measures".

We need tough measures...

The problem is that tough times do not require tough measures they require intelligent ones that deal with the war being fought. Being on the right battle field with the right weapons.

The British Empire has used a whole panoply of tough measures to fight terrorism, insurgency and the like over hundreds of years. We have been very nasty to the Irish. Repressive measures just make the problem worse.

We tried internment in Northern Ireland in the 1970's and not only did it not work it made matters worse. It was a recruiting sergeant for the IRA.

Surveys show that the Muslim community is feeling increasingly picked on and victimised. This can only drive them into the hands of the extremist.

Government claims it needs these measures and also claims to have been advised they are necessary. We are also told that we face the greatest threat in our history, which shows a complete lack of historical understanding.

We also here that if we don't agree with these measures we are being "soft on terrorism" which is such a childish position to adopt it is risible.

Even if you could lock people up without trial it is only going to prevent terror if you lock the right people up. Even then, if you have not gone through due process of law, you will create sympathisers who will go on to commit other acts of terrorism.

If you are going to find the right people to lock up, you are going to need to resource the intelligence to find them. Locking up random people in the hope of deterring people will really not help.

If you have the resource to find the people, it seems to me to follow that you can get the evidence to convict. We are told that many operations have been disrupted. We are also told of lots of intelligence that say it is a case of when not if we will have one sort of attack or another.

Well, the security services scaled down their assessment of the threat just before the July the 7th bombings. Clearly the intelligence is no where near good enough. Spending vasts amounts of money on parliament giving propaganda to the enemy is no help.

Preventing terrorist attacks all comes down to resource, not what laws are on the statute books. It is true that you may need to fiddle with and modify the law in certain areas such as allowing intercept evidence in court, and being able to charge someone with withholding a password for an encrypted file whilst still being able to question the suspect. Both of these suggestions were put forward by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

The problem with these repressive laws is that they are a propaganda gift to the enemy. Never mind the fact that no one has been held for 28 days without charge yet, it won't matter.

Gifting the enemy the propaganda ammunition he needs is not being tough on terrorism or sending a "clear message" it is still giving him ammunition.

Guantanamo bay is also the most horrendous propaganda cock up in the history of counter terrorism as it is such a propaganda gift as to be unreal.

In order to meet this threat we do need to understand the battle field and the rules of this war, failing to do so will cost lives. It is to fought on the political and propaganda battlefields more than anywhere else.

Thought for the day on Iraq.

Was it really such a good idea to make half a million armed men unemplyed in one go?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Is it mendacity or Double think on the part of the Lib Dems?

I had an argument with some one who I presume was a Liberal Democrat, in which he said:

"So? I don't see the point. If the fact that Bob Neill isn't going to give up is considered a bad thing among voters, what does it matter whether Ben Abbotts would have given up his other jobs because he wanted to, or because the Lib Dem party says so? Doesn't it tell something of the parties Neill and Abbotts represent, that the other is allowing its MPs to have other jobs, the other isn't?"

I want to make it clear that you can support MP's having outside interests or you can oppose it, both are legitimate positions to adopt. People take different views on this, that is democracy.

However looking at the members interests register on reveals that the Liberal Democrat front bench has people with outside interest.

There is Sir Menzies "two jobs" Campbell who also practices as a QC occasionally as well as being an MP and leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Then there is Nicholas "two jobs" Clegg who writes for the Guardian on a fortnightly basis. He is Liberal democrats spokesman on Home Affairs.
What of Nick "two jobs" Harvey who works as a "Communications strategies consultant". He is Liberal democrats spokesman on Defence.
We have Chris Huhne who writes as a freelance journalist for several news papers. (Spokesperson on environment.

On International Development we have Susan "Three Jobs" Kramer.

Jo "two jobs" Swinson covers Scottish affairs whilst writing a column for the "Evening Times".

Your chief of Staff, Norman "two and a half jobs" Lamb also does consultancy.

Colin Breed, a Treasury spokesmen also is a Lay Associate Member of General Medical Council.

Lynne "three jobs" Featherstone, a Home Affairs Spokes person is also a director of Lyonedge Properties Limited as well as being a local councilor for the London borough of Haringey.

Roger "two jobs" Williams is a farming spokesman.

Paul "four jobs" Rowan a spokesman on transport is also a director of Corinya (UG) Ltd still finding time however to be a councilor on Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council and being involved in IDEA consultancy work with other councils.

John "two jobs" Leech
(Transport), is also a councilor on Manchester City Council though he says he passes his money from that onto his constituency office.

David "Two jobs" Howarth DTI spokesman on energy is also a writer on legal topics.

Tim "two jobs Farron
, PPS to the party leader is also a Member of South Lakeland District Council.

So that is 14 members of the Liberal Democrat front bench who have other jobs. Personally I think there all fine. There was nothing there that seemed incompatible with their job as an MP.

However, if you want to take a principled stand on out side jobs for MP's, start with your own party and don't have the mendacity to attck us as if your party was holier than thou.