.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A flawed voting system?

Whilst we all recover from the European and English Council elections, it is worth reflecting on what lessons we can learn from the fiasco at Tower Hamlets. Over at the Telegraph, Charles Moore does precisely that and concludes that we are focussing on engagement rather than on making votes trustworthy:

Our modern democratic system dates from 1872 when the secret ballot was introduced. The modern system of unrestricted postal voting almost reverses that great step forward. After the 1872 Act, voting became a private act, performed in public. Today, in postal voting, it is all too often a public act, though performed in private. There is no protection of its secrecy and therefore nothing to stop its manipulation. Another big problem is “personation” – voting at the polling station as someone else. It is actually illegal to ask a voter to produce proof of identity at the poll, so personation is well-nigh undetectable.

You would have thought politicians would be worried. They are rightly alarmed by public disillusionment with politics. If the nuts and bolts of democracy shake loose, that disillusionment will be complete. Yet the parties seem to be facing the other way. All of them voted for the extension of postal voting. They seem obsessed with the question of “engagement” – getting more people to take part. They neglect the integrity of the process itself.

He also calls into question the role of the Electoral Commission with a commentary that reinforces my view that the body is not fit for purpose:

The Electoral Commission is the body supposed to ensure that all is well with British voting. But if you look at its remit and pronouncements, you will see that it focuses more on engagement than on making votes trustworthy. In a speech in March, its chairman, Jenny Watson, seemed preoccupied with the need to “modernise”. “As a society, we are at risk,” she said clumsily, “of how we ask people to engage with our electoral system… becoming increasingly disconnected from how they interact with both each other and with other institutions, from their banking arrangements to their weekly shop.” The system needed to be “more reflective of the wider society”. She said how nice it would be if people could register to vote on the actual day of the election. She played down issues of fraud. She praised the work of pressure groups, such as Operation Black Vote (OBV), which try to get new voters. She did not praise anyone who checks that registered voters are true ones.

Miss Watson is right that we expect things to be quicker nowadays, but if you think about it, modern society actually makes far more demands for proof of identity than in the past. Try getting on an internal flight, or buying a drink if you are young, or hiring a car, to see what I mean. Some of this is irksome, but the essential point is that the transaction matters, and so it should be accurate and legal. Jenny Watson mentioned banking. Would it be good if you could walk in, or write off, to demand a bank account and get one without proving who you were? No, but you can get the vote that way.

His conclusion that an electoral system without clean voting quickly becomes like a hospital with MRSA is one that should worry us all.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Drinking culture continues in House of Commons

The Times reports that the House of Commons has been spending £750,000 a year on alcohol for resale to politicians and their staff.

They say that tens of thousands of bottles of beer, wine, champagne and whisky were purchased for sale in the House’s bars and restaurants as the government was considering introducing minimum pricing for alcohol for the general public:

Details released under the Freedom of Information Act show that £1.43 million worth of alcohol was purchased by the parliamentary authorities for sale in the House in 2012 and 2013. 

The bill, equivalent to an annual spending of £1,100 per MP, covers the two years after David Cameron ordered officials to draw up plans for a minimum price per unit of alcohol to curb the rest of the nation’s drinkers. 

The bulk of the alcohol will have been drunk by the 650 MPs, their 3,000 staff and 1,800 parliamentary workers. The extensive drinks list would not look out of place in a Soho drinking den or celebrity nightclub with the “family friendly” sitting hours introduced by Tony Blair serving to give MPs more time to drink in the evening. 

The Commons drinking culture was exposed in the trial of Nigel Evans, the Tory MP cleared of sexually assaulting a young man following a drinks session in the Strangers’ Bar. 

Eric Joyce resigned from the Labour party, but remained an MP, in 2012 after being convicted of hitting three Tory MPs during a drunken rampage in the same bar. 

Wine accounts for about half the spending, with House of Commons label sauvignon, which sells for £13.80 a bottle in the Strangers’ Bar, the favourite, with a total order of 49,464 bottles. 

There were also orders for 6,036 bottles of House claret, at £17.50 each. As the nation endured years of austerity there was clearly plenty to celebrate in the House with orders for 8,502 bottles of champagne at £32.50 a go. 

The Commons authorities bought 33,696 pints of House ale. Imported bottled lager was the most popular, with 10,248 bottles of German-made Becks at £2.70 each, and 10,800 bottles of Italian Peroni Nastro Azzuro. 

Only 498 bottles of alcohol-free lager were bought. There were orders for 3,600 bottles of Commons whisky and 2,232 of port. 

Spending at the Commons bars has increased steadily over the past three years, from £222,697 in the year to April 2011 to £249,305 to April last year.

All of this is very well of course. If MPs want to drink themselves into oblivion that is their business, as long as they do it in their own time. However, what rankles the most is that the House continues to subsidise its catering and bar operations to the tune of about £5 million a year. How can that be justified?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why the so-called leadership crisis is distracting the Lib Dems from the real debate

Lord Oakshott has done the Liberal Democrats more than one disservice. His cack-handed focus on displacing Nick Clegg as leader has led to furore in the media, but more importantly it has enabled those responsible for our lame and ineffective European campaign to regroup and close ranks around the leadership. The chances of having a proper debate about that campaign so as to bring about change have diminished as a result.

I went to a well-attended local party meeting last night, who unanimously agreed to back Nick Clegg as leader. I supported that position but we also agreed that there were problems with the campaign the party fought, that we need to debate what went wrong and that we need to get out and campaign as a party from the grassroots up.

I would expect the party leadership to be leading that internal debate, and indeed to be out and about in the country telling people what we have achieved in government and what we want to do in the next one. Instead all I can see is retrenchment behind the leader in the face of a bungled hostile take-over.

Today's letter in the Times from the Social Liberal Forum falls into the same trap. The agree that the party needs to re-examine its strategy, how we deliver it, and what we will be offering the electorate at the general election in 2015 but they still insist that this debate should include who leads the party. Frankly, that moment has passed and the support of Lord Oakshott and the likes of Lembit Opik for that position undermines it further.

What we do need is a signal from Nick Clegg and those around him that he gets it and that the party will re-examine its message and the way we campaign in the lead-up to the 2015 General Election. I have every confidence it will come, but the distractions of recent days do not help.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Will Miliband play the race card?

In his Telegraph column yesterday, Dan Hodges suggests that Labour have finally realised that they may lose the next general election. His concern is that in a blind panic Ed Miliband will begin to 'dog-whistle' to Ukip voters on immigration:

His speech will be dressed up. It will include lots of references to disfranchised working-class communities. There will be lots of condemnation of the exploitation of migrant workers. But it will be a good old-fashioned dog-whistle speech just the same. 

Miliband doesn’t want to be whistling Nigel Farage’s tune, of course. He hoped to spend this week issuing vacuous homilies about One Nation Britain. But he is panicking. And he’s trying to stay one step ahead of his own MPs who have finally turned round and said “enough is enough”.

Dan Hodges says that if Miliband goes down this road then three things will happen. Firstly, Labour will implode as fault lines that have been papered over for years split open:

The country may not have been listening to Miliband, but his party has. And they’ve trusted him. They’ve trusted him when he told them they could win from the Left. They’ve trusted him when they told him they could win by being true to themselves. He cannot turn round now, less than a year from polling day, and say “You know what, I’m sorry, I lied. The only way I can win is by pretending I’m Nigel Farage.” 

The Left will break away. The students will break away. The Iraq war refuseniks will break away. The Lib Dem refugees will break away. And for what? So Ed Miliband can shore up that minuscule percentage of the Labour base that is flitting with Ukip? Is that seriously what he’s planning? Abandoning the 35 per cent strategy for the 1 per cent strategy?

Secondly, he believes these tactics will not work. It will be the abandonment of authenticity and voters will see right through the Labour leader:

There is a final reason Labour’s leader must stick with his chosen strategy to the bitter end. This small "c"/Blue Labour/call it what you will agenda is important for Labour. There will come a time, if it wants to regain power, when it will need to look again at its stances on immigration and welfare and law and order and public spending and Europe and its broader fiscal credibility. 

But that time is not now. Not whilst Nigel – “you know the difference” – Farage is continuing his victory tour of the bar-rooms of Britain. Yes, we need a serious discussion about immigration. But that discussion cannot be held against a backdrop of “No dogs, no blacks, no Romanians”. The far Right is on the march across Europe. Today is not the day for the leader of the Labour Party to be picking up and dusting off the race card.

If this seems like a turning point for Ed Miliband then perhaps that is because it is. How he responds now will be the real test of character.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Some thoughts on the European Elections and Nick Clegg

I have promised a couple of times over the last few days that I will post on the European elections and the current controversy surrounding Nick Clegg.

What is set out below is not meant to be a coherent reaction to recent events, rather it is a series of random thoughts that will hopefully add something to the debate about how we could have done better and how we should go further.

I think I should add a further caveat that despite my criticisms of the way the European campaign was fought, they are retrospective ones. In the case of the challenge to Farage I thought at the time it was the correct thing to do. Equally, I think it is the case that even if we had fought the campaign differently the outcome would most probably have been the same.

The first issue I wanted to comment on is the debate with Nigel Farage. At the time it seemed to be a masterstroke, a game-changer that had the potential to re-launch the Liberal Democrats and allow us to portray ourselves as the anti-UKIP party (if it is possible to have an anti anti-politics party that is).

That the debates were a disaster in my view can be put down to two reasons. Firstly, Clegg was over-prepared and came across as wooden and uneasy. Considering that he is a commited and knowledgeable European that was an unexpected outcome.

In the second debate in particular, the hype was that Clegg was going to display passion. Instead he looked helpless in the face of a clever and passionate onslaught from his opponent.

Those who had prepared him for this debate had forgotten one golden rule: passion comes from spontaneity. That was lacking in Clegg's performance and as a result he looked less sincere and not in command of his brief. That is a lesson that needs to be learnt for the General Election.

The second miscalculation was in how the debates would play in the country. The idea was that the Liberal Democrats would be perceived as the only party standing up to bigotry and racism, defending jobs and taking on the UKIP threat.

However, most people formed their view of these debates not by watching them, but from the anti-European, anti-Liberal Democrats, pro-UKIP press who, seeing blood in the water rounded on Clegg over the period of a week or more, pronouncing him the clear loser.

After this the Liberal Democrats poll ratings started to deteriorate and we had no credibility on doorsteps as a party who were standing up for people's economic interests.

Clegg had taken on popularism with facts and cold logic. It was inevitable that this would fail, especially when the execution was so poor, and the party suffered as a result.

My next problem was with the campaign itself. The slogan that we are 'the party of in', was not just meaningless to most people, but it was weak and failed to appeal even to commited Europeans. Privately at the time I compared it to Monty Python's equally ineffectual 'knights who say ni' and having now seen how it played out I think I was right in that analysis.

In Liberal Democrats terms I am a Euro-sceptic, which makes me an enthusiast in any other party. But I consider my views as closer to many people's than for example, Nick Clegg's. The slogan and the campaign did not resonate because they came across as extreme.

We were the party in most people's mind who want closer European integration, unlimited immigration, and who were prepared to embrace all the faults and abuses prevalent in the EU to get it.

In reality of course that is not the case. The Liberal Democrats' view of Europe is not unconditional. We want reform, we want to see constructive and positive immigration and we want to see a more accountable and transparent European Union. None of that was evident in our campaign and people voted accordingly.

And then there is Nick Clegg himself. It is correct that on the doorsteps Nick Clegg is a major negative for the Liberal Democrats. People do not trust him. He is seen as somebody who broke major pledges, not least on tuition fees, notwithstanding other party's record on this issue, especially Labour's, who broke two successive promises on tuition fees despite having a majority.

Part of the reason for this lies in the way we conducted our 2010 General Election campaign. That campaign highlighted key pledges which we could not keep and in the case of senior members of the party, as was evident from the coalition negotiations, had no commitment to keeping. What is worse we ran a party election broadcast in which Nick Clegg critcised others for dishonesty. This is one negative I cannot see us overcoming whilst Nick remains party leader.

This does not mean that I agree with those calling on Nick Clegg to stand down. In many ways he is our most successful leader since Lloyd George. He took us into government and is delivering a Liberal Democrats agenda on fairness, economic competence, education, the environment and civil liberties. It is true that there have been hiccups, and I have not been slow to criticise these, especially on welfare reform, secret courts etc. But the process of government involves compromise especially when you do not have a majority, and were we to return to government in a different context then it is likely we would want to change some of these measures.

Many party members refer to the policies we delivered that were not in the coalition agreement. Anybody who has exercised power on a local council or in a devolved Parliament knows that this always happens and should be expected. Whatever our faults we remain the only credible liberal party and the only one capable of implementing liberal policies in government.

The project is to demonstrate that coalition government can work and that the Liberal Democrats are a party of government. On both counts we have succeeded and Nick needs to see out his term as Deputy Prime Minister to seal the deal on that narrative,

If Nick does stay though there needs to be changes, not least in the way the party campaigns and listens to its activists and voters. Our campaigns need to resonate better with voters and not rely on the endless repetition of meaningless slogans. Those around the DPM need to understand that on message, in volume is no substitute for getting out on doorsteps and talking to people about what we have achieved and hope to achieve.

We need to do better at explaining our record and rebutting attacks and we need to get Nick Clegg out around the country more, addressing public meetings and talking on local media, The next twelve months have to be a campaign to end all campaigns. Retrenchment is not an option. We need to fight as if the future of our party depends on it and I expect Nick Clegg to be leading that charge.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ukip councillors start as they mean to go on

As we reflect on the European election results (and I will post in more detail on these later in the week) and begin to wonder whether any of the 20 plus Ukip MEPs will actually turn up for work, it is worth noting that another phenomena continues right beneath our noses. That phenomena is the Ukip foot in mouth brigade.

The Independent reports that a newly elected Ukip councillor has become the latest party member to face accusations of racism and homophobia, just days after Nigel Farage celebrated unprecedented gains in local elections in England:

Dave Small, who has just been selected as a councillor for the Redditch borough council in Worcestershire, already faces the prospect of being kicked out of the party after he reportedly described gay people as “perverts” and immigrants as “money-grabbing scum”.

In a series of comments on Facebook which came to light minutes after his successful election on Friday, Mr Small apparently claimed that “migration from Muslim countries” led to the spread of TB in Britain, the Redditch Standard reported.

That post was entitled “Muslims and the threat they pose to our way of life”, and in others people from Mali and Romania were called “scroungers” and Birmingham was described as full of “jabbering in an alien voice” and “men [who] wear their Pyjamas”.

In another post on Mr Small’s profile, under the headline “Britain used to be for the British”, he appeared to have written: “Our once great country has become the dust bin for all the world wide money grabbing scum.

“Why on earth is this useless Government[sic] pandering to Puffs?” he reportedly wrote. “I refuse to call them gays, as what has gay to do with Perverts like Elton John and Clair[sic] Balding who get their jollies in such disgusting ways. To sum up, they should not allowed to be married, they should go back to the closet.

So far so good for Nigel Farage and his party.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Liberal Democrats are already delivering change and Clegg is leading the way

A small, and it has to be said, shadowy group called Liberal Democrats for change are gathering a petition calling on Nick Clegg to stand down so that a new leader can take the party into the general election. At the time of writing they have 200 signatures.

The Independent adds that a block of unnamed MPs are poised to join in this demand for Clegg's resignation, paving the way for the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, a possible "unity candidate", to take over in a "coronation" before next year's general election. They add that some are considering going public within days over their demands before the state opening of Parliament on 4 June.

We will see if this group ever emerges. Their problem it seems is that being in government and having to make compromises as a result is making the party unpopular. What did they expect?

I will write in more detail on the mistakes I believe that the party made in the recent elections once all the votes have been counted and we can see how badly (or well) we have done. However, it is worth pointing out that most of those now agitating signed up to this coalition with their eyes wide open.

The point is that Clegg has delivered change. He took the party into government for first time in nearly a century, he has delivered key Liberal Democrats policies from a position of weakness and he has moderated the worst excesses of a right wing Conservative Party.

He has made mistakes and we have had to accept some pretty appalling policies in the process of doing that, but the stability that Clegg and the party have brought to the country has helped to turn the economy around.

The future is uncertain, but in my view Clegg deserves to lead us into the next General Election and should do so.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The high cost of independence

More evidence this morning in the Telegraph of just how unsustainable an independent Scotland would be.

The paper quotes a 'comprehensive' Treasury analysis that found that the state pension would be less affordable in an independent Scotland unless it could attract almost half a million more immigrants.
Civil servants have calculated that Scotland would need the population increase over the next 20 years – the equivalent of a city the size of Edinburgh – because there are fewer workers north of the Border paying taxes to fund each OAP’s pension.

A separate Scotland would have to more than treble its projected annual net migration from 7,000 to 24,000 if the funding gap relative to the UK was to be closed, it said.

Without a steep increase in immigration, actuaries have warned that each worker would have to pay hundreds of pounds more in tax to make good the shortfall.

No doubt the SNP have allowed for this in their calculations.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tories in double standards - shock!

Today's Western Mail reports that despite their opposition to wind farms two Tory MPs have received donations amounting to £5,000 each from a Russian wind farm developer, whilst there is an application for a huge 100m wind turbine on the land of the leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Assembly, Andrew R. T. Davies.

All remain opposed to wind farms. C'est la vie.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Labour failing to stand up to UKIP racism

On his Telegraph blog, Dan Hodges is particularly cutting about Labour's failure to stand up to UKIP's racism. he is particularly critical of the Labour Party's failure to condemn Nigel Farage's racist comments about Romanians and their contention that assaults on the UKIP leader are a sign that members of the political establishment are ganging up to undermine him, and have actually helped him.

He says that the evidence shows the contrary view to be true:

The attacks on Ukip’s racism have damaged them. Ed Miliband may not be aware of that, but Nigel Farage certainly is. That’s why we’ve had his grudging “apology” for his Romanian comments, Ukip’s “black candidates” event, and yesterday’s farcical “street carnival”. It’s also why he announced this morning he would be handing over a number of his responsibilities to colleagues once the campaign is over. The great white hope of British politics has had a chastening experience.

Think about it for a second. The Conservative Party is targeting Ukip’s racism. The Lib Dems are targeting Ukip’s racism. The Sun is targeting Ukip’s racism. And while this is going on the Labour Party – the Labour Party – is scuttling round Westminster effectively spinning on Nigel Farage's behalf.

It is a view that is being reflected by some Labour MPs as the Independent reports:

Several senior MPs believe Labour has not taken the threat from Nigel Farage’s party seriously enough. Canvassing in their constituencies has convinced them that many traditional Labour supporters will split their vote by backing Ukip in the Euro elections and Labour in the council elections in England. There are no local elections in Scotland and Wales.

Peter Hain, the former Cabinet minister, told The Independent: “I don’t think we had a sufficiently robust strategy towards Ukip. It’s not about whether some of their members are racist.

“The problem is that there is a seriously alienated – mostly white working class, often male – vote out there that was traditionally Labour’s. They are not voting any more.

“They should be coming to us but they did not under Tony Blair or Gordon Brown see sufficient priority given to affordable housing, job security or well-paid skilled jobs that would take the place of mining or heavy industry.”

Ed Miliband's problems go deeper than he cares to admit and stretch beyond political cowardice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Labour at odds over housing policy

Ed Miliband's launch of his party's housing policy got a lot of publicity and not a little scepticism from those who thought that it might impact on the availability of homes in the private sector. The most controversial was this:

“And we need to deal with the terrible insecurity of Britain’s private rental market as well. Many tenancies last just six months with families at risk of being thrown out after that with just two months’ notice with no reason. Some are told to accept huge rent rises or face eviction. It breeds instability and that is bad for tenants, bad for families, bad for landlords, and bad for our society.

"So today I can announce, the next Labour government will legislate to make three year tenancies the standard in the British private rented sector to giving people who rent the certainty they need. These new longer-term tenancies will limit the amount that rents can rise by each year too - so landlords know what they can expect each year and tenants can’t be surprised by rents that go through the roof.

In that spirit I tabled an amendment to the Welsh Housing Bill suggesting that we have 12 month tenancies as a minimum here. The Labour Minister rejected my amendment on the basis that it would impact upon supply.

I wonder if he has told Ed Miliband?

Ed Miliband's cost of shopping crisis*

Ed Miliband had a Gerald Ford moment yesterday when he went on the media as part of his Europeam campaign and made two gaffes in quick succession.

He started off on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, where he claimed that the ‘cost-of-living crisis is the biggest issue that our country faces and I am determined we tackle it’. The Daily Mail takes up the story:

But he was put on the spot about how much it really costs to feed a family of four. Asked about the average weekly household grocery bill, Mr Miliband responded: ‘It depends on how much you are spending.’

Pressed on his own family's bill, Mr Miliband said: ‘We probably spend £70, £80 a week on groceries at least, probably more than that.

‘The point is that different families will have different costs that they face but what I am clear about is that there is a crisis facing so many people.’

But TV presenter Susannah Reid took him to task for appearing out of touch.

She told him: ‘The average weekly bill for a family of four is more than £100. So you are going to be spending significantly more than £70 or £80.

‘People will say one of the problems with politicians is they are actually talking about something but not in touch with reality.’

As if that was not bad enough Mr. Miliband was embarrassed in a live interview for the second time after a regional radio DJ quizzed him on his knowledge of the party’s local council representatives.

The Independent reports that the Labour Leader was campaigning in Wiltshire at the time, yet when asked what he thought of Labour’s leader for Swindon, Jim Grant, he had to admit that he didn’t know who he was:

Despite his apparent lack of awareness of local politics, Mr Miliband then said he felt Cllr Grant was doing a “good job” as leader of Swindon Borough Council – only to have it pointed out that Labour is in fact in the minority there.

Not just out of touch with the country but with his own party.

*With thanks to Elizabeth Adams for the headline

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

No smoke without fire, the debate on e-cigarettes

The issue of e-cigarettes in Wales has got a bit heated recently thanks to a proposal by the Welsh Government to ban their use in public places. It is a proposal that iseing resisted by all three opposition parties in the Senedd.

Their view, which I share is that whereas the smoking ban was based on clear evidence of the damage caused by second-hand smoke, there is no such evidence available to support a similiar measure with regards to e-cigarettes.

The Minister argues that his proposal is to try and prevent the normalisation of smoking, but that effectively means that he is using legislation to manage people's behaviour. More importantly, there is clear evidence, as this report from the BBC outlines, that e-cigarettes help people to give up smoking.

The BBC say that a survey of nearly 6,000 smokers by a University College London team found that  a fifth had quit with the aid of e-cigarettes. 

The lead researcher Prof Robert West, one of the UK's leading experts in this field, said: "E-cigarettes could substantially improve public health because of their widespread appeal and the huge health gains associated with stopping smoking."

But he also pointed out that despite the findings - published in the journal Addiction - by far the most effective way of quitting was to use NHS stop smoking services which tripled the odds of a smoker quitting when compared to buying nicotine replacement treatments without specialist help.

And he added: "Some public health experts have expressed concern that widespread use of e-cigarettes could 're-normalise' smoking. However, we are tracking this very closely and see no evidence of it.

"Smoking rates in England are declining, quitting rates are increasing and regular e-cigarette use among never smokers is negligible."

Some real food for thought for the Welsh Government there.

Monday, May 19, 2014

UKIP candidate wants to hang his rivals (and some of his voters)

If Nigel Farage is really wondering why it is that the media are only interested in the idiots in UKIP, then the answer lies here. There are just so many idiots that it is difficult to focus anywhere else.

In this particular instance, a UKIP council candidate has circulated a letter around his ward advocating that politicians from Britain’s three main political parties should be hanged and their voters tried for treason.

The Telegraph say that Gordon Ferguson delivered a letter to prospective voters in which he claimed that Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians have committed Britain to “slavery inside the EU dictatorship” and should be punished by death. Anybody who votes for those parties is “guilty by association of treason against our nation”, he added:

Mr Ferguson wrote: “The Lib-Lab-Cons have conspired with a foreign power, the EU, and are all thereby guilty of treason. They have sold Britain, which is the fifth largest economy, illegally into increasing slavery inside the EU dictatorship. Those responsible should be hung by the neck until dead.”

He went on: “As likely as not, however, they will never be brought to account because our senior police, Crown Prosecution Service and judges are almost all exclusively freemasons, and Britain’s courts have been utterly corrupt for many years. They are almost all in the pocket of the EU.

Mr Ferguson, who is running for Cambridge ward in Southport, Lancashire, added: “If you vote for any of the three Lib- Lab- Con- parties you will be aiding and abetting them and you will also be guilty by association of treason against our nation. No-one should knowingly support a corrupt organisation.”

The letter complains of a plot between the three main parties, the European Union, the banks, the energy companies and local councils to "impoverish us and reduce our ability to resist".

The death penalty for treason was abolished in 1998 of course but we shouldn't allow small details to get in the way of a little megalomania and more than a touch of paranoia.

Meanwhile in Liverpool, a UKIP Council candidate has called for Russian militia to be shipped into Britain to “clean up our city centres”.

The Liverpool Echo reports that Austin Lucas, who is standing in Cressington ward in this Thursday’s local elections, has also joined his Leader, Nigel Farage is heaping praise on Russian president Vladimir Putin, saying: “At least he loves his country":

Mr Lucas’s comments are among a series of bizarre statements made on Facebook by UKIP council candidates in Liverpool.

Enid Lindsay, who is standing in Fazakerley , called voters “idiots”, while Clubmoor’s Paul Forrest claimed “racism is a natural outcome of evolution” and said the Catholic church is “far more dangerous” than the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

Meanwhile John Halvorsen, a candidate in Everton , lists the Liverpool division of the far-right English Defence League among his “likes” on Facebook. He is also a member of an online group called “Was Enoch Powell Right?”.

No wonder Nigel Farage is exasperated. This is the real UKIP after all.

Update: Just so that they can claim a full set, UKIP have also acquired a holocaust-denier. The SWNS news site reports on views posted in Mrs Anna-Marie Crampton’s name on a conspiracy theory website called ‘Secrets of The Fed’.

Just so I can get the guilt by association reference in, Mrs Crampton posed with UKIP leader Nigel Farrage at a rally in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, two weeks ago, and proudly posted a photo on her Facebook page. She is standing for UKIP in next week’s county council elections in the traditionally Conservative ward of Crowborough in East Sussex, so she is an approved candidate:

The comments in her name are part of an online discussion of an article entitled ‘Was Pope Benedict fired by the Knights of Malta?’ which is on website called Secrets of The Fed.

This is how they appear in full:

‘The Second World Wide War was engineered by the Zionist jews and financed by the banksters to make the general public all over the world to feel so guilty and outraged by the Holocaust that a treaty would be signed to create the State of Israel as we know it today. By the way, Holocaust means a sacrifice by fire. Only the Zionists could sacrifice their own in the gas chambers. No others, since you and I cannot sacrifice that which is not ours. I am anti Zionist, not antisemit. I love the true Israel and the Jews, but I love the son and daughters of Ihsmel, who are also the children of Abraham. We need to defend Palestine by joining the true Jews…. thanks go to Alan Schiller for this info.’

And in second posting adds:

‘The Rothschilds are Zionists..there is a difference between Jews and Zionists. These Psychopaths hide behind and use the Jews. It was thanks to them that 6 million Jews were murdered in the War (along with 26 million Russians!). Read the Protocols of Zion, all you need to know is in there and it’s in their own words.’

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Milibands' 'Mantra of Misery'

The various controveries over UKIP have had the effect of pushing Labour's own troubles off the front pages in recent weeks, but that does not stop today's Observer highlighting the latest spat in the party's internal war.

The paper reports that senior Labour figures have warned that their party risks losing the general election because of Ed Miliband's ''suicidal'' campaign tactics of "continually reciting a mantra of misery":

One prominent backbencher Simon Mr Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale, said they had to stop relying on the unpopularity of the Government and come forward with a positive vision of their own.

In a scathing article for The Mail on Sunday, he said it was ''daft'' to dismiss voters who were to turning to Ukip as ''disaffected loons'' and that winning back support was more than a matter of ''setting off a few fireworks or coming up with some catchy slogans''.

''We've become too comfortable with talking to ourselves, with policy announced through set-piece speeches as though in a university lecture. Some in the party view politics as an intellectual pursuit; it's not, it's a monumental struggle to win hearts and minds,'' he said.

''We won't win a general election by campaigning excessively on food banks and the bedroom tax. Labour has to offer a route out of poverty and unfulfilled potential. Continually reciting a mantra of misery is not the answer. We have to start speaking the language of aspiration.

''Britain needs a Government with a convincing mandate to introduce the big changes that are required. But Labour can't achieve that with the core vote and a few disgruntled Liberals. That's a suicidal strategy.''

His concerns were echoed by Tristan Osborne, a the parliamentary candidate for Chatham and Aylesford, one of the party's key target seats, who was recorded making critical remarks at a Labour fundraising event.

In comments reported by The Mail on Sunday and The Sunday Times, he was quoted as complaining of a ''dodgy campaign'' with ''no coherent messaging'', adding ''The machine is not functioning in any capacity''.

He was said to have warned that Mr Miliband would ''never form a credible government'' unless he did more to win over ''the aspirational southern voter''.

It seems that Miliband is still struggling to convince his own party that he is can be Prime Minister, not just voters.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Nigel Farage's car crash radio interview

This interview of Nigel Farage's car crash interview is all over the interweb. Dan Hodges in the Telegraph thinks that it is the UKIP leader's Nick Griffin moment. We can but hope.

As Dan Hodges says,it started with the Ukip leader attempting to defend his party over charges of racism. It ended with his Communications Director Patrick O’Flynn interrupting the interview live on air and then, according to LBC staff, physically dragging him out of the studio off camera:

What happened in between has effectively finished Nigel Farage’s political career. To understand why, you have to listen to the interview in its entirety. In particular, the moment when O’Brien pulls the Ukip leader into another attempt to defend his statement that people would rightly be alarmed if a group of Romanians moved next door.

First Farage denies he said it. Then he repeats it. Then he implies Romanians are criminals. Then he claims they’re people traffickers. The killer moment comes when O’Brien asks him what would be the difference between Romanians moving next door and Germans, citing Nigel Farage’s own German wife and children. Farage responds: “You know the difference”.

Nigel Farage’s intention was to destroy the perception that Ukip has crossed a line with its anti-immigration euro election campaign. Instead, he has cast that perception in stone. 

It reminded me of the moment Nick Griffin went on Question Time. The mask slipped, and Griffin and the BNP never recovered.

“You know the difference”. The mask has slipped for Nigel Farage. There is no way back now.

Somehow I think this might be over-optimistic but we can hope.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Food for thought on term time holidays

The BBC reported yesterday that half of all Welsh local authorities ask headteachers to refuse all requests for holidays during term-time.

They say that although schools are allowed to authorise up to 10 days absence per pupil per year, under the Welsh government's school assessment programme, known as banding, absences negatively affect a school's score. As a result sveral councils have tightened policies on term-time holidays and others are considering doing so.

This is all very well and in general a good thing, however it does not help those parents whose jobs prevent them from choosing when they can take holidays. It is the case though, that councils cannot dictate to schools on this matter but that headteachers have discretion to determine whether to authorise an absence or not.

For example the families of those serving in the armed forces struggle to spend quality time together. Those serving their country cannot simply take a week off at times convenient to themselves but are dictated to by the Ministry of Defence. Often these families go months without seeing the serving parent.

Most local councils have signed a military covenant that commits them to looking after the interests of military personnel. This latest policy on school holidays seems to go against that.

There is no easy answer, but it does seem as if the disconnect between the commitment to military familes and this policy needs to be resolved.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Blocking bad news

According to the Telegraph, the Better Together lead spokesperson in Scotland, Alistair Darling has accused the SNP of undermining democracy over claims it was preventing Holyrood's committees from publishing criticism of Alex Salmond's government.

He refers to reports that Nationalists are using their parliamentary majority to "shut down" legitimate debate over Government policy raised serious questions about accountability.

Mr. Datling should come to Wales, where Labour are doing exactly the same thing, not least in preventing Ann Clwyd, one of their own MPs, coming before the Health and Social Services Committee to give evidence about how badly the Labour Government are running the NHS here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

More angst for the Welsh Tories

I am starting to feel like the official chronicler of Welsh Tory strife, indeed a number of their AMs seem uncomfortable with my interest. Nevertheless, in the interests of completeness and transparency I thought it worth referring to the latest episode in the soap opera that is Andrew R.T. Davies' leadership.

Today's South Wales Argus reports that the sacked chair of the Enterprise and Business Committee is continuing to agitate about his dismissal. He tells the paper that the leader of the Assembly Tories shouldn’t have been allowed to sack him from the chairmanship of an Assembly committee.

More interestingly though is that he asserts that Byron Davies intervention on Monday shows that there are still issues that are preventing the Conservative Group from pulling together. That is obvious to us all.

In it for the money? The latest UKIP scandal

Today's Times highlights the way that UKIP use the candidate process to raise money for the party. The paper quotes the party's former deputy leader, who alleges that UKIP are forcing MEPs to donate large sums and threaten to bar those who refuse from standing again.

They say tbat Ex-Ukip insiders also raised concerns before this month’s European elections that the party favour wealthy MEP candidates.

They say that an analysis of Electoral Commission records showed that two leading candidates for the May 22 poll, and the partner of a third, donated or lent the party tens of thousands of pounds about the time they were selected for safe seats.

No new MEP candidates from the Labour or Conservative party have made declarable donations in the past four years. Three Liberal Democrat candidates who have donated large amounts have not been given winnable seats:

The revelations come amid further controversy for Ukip. Yesterday a British Asian former chairman of its youth wing resigned from the party, claiming that it “deliberately attracts the racist vote”, while Janice Atkinson, a prospective MEP, provoked derision by asking police to arrest protesters who called Ukip members “fascists”.

David Campbell-Bannerman, Ukip’s former deputy leader, left the party in 2011 after repeatedly warning Nigel Farage and other top officials about its “overt [link] between financial contributions and selection to a public elected office”. He said that it was “potentially very dangerous” and could be seen as being “cash for Euroseats”.

In his resignation letter, leaked to The Times by a former Ukip branch chairman, Mr Campbell-Bannerman raised concerns including that “Ukip MEPs will only be there in future to keep the party solvent or to pay lip service to the leader”.

Mr Campbell-Bannerman, now a Conservative MEP, accused Ukip of drawing up plans to field four MEP candidates simply so they could “pay all their salary to the party” without carrying out any work.

He wrote that his “urgent calls” for legal advice had gone unheeded and warned that “any future Ukip MEPs beyond 2014 will either be very rich or just sycophantic placemen/women of the leader”. Mr Campbell-Bannerman said yesterday that he stood by his comments.

All Ukip MEPs elected this month will have signed a “code of conduct” forcing them to donate 10 per cent of their salary, equivalent to about €10,000 (£8,000) a year, to the party. Any MEP not fulfilling this promise risks being “blackballed”, according to emails sent by Alan Bown, one of Ukip’s biggest donors.

Mr Campbell-Bannerman was primarily concerned with pressure applied to sitting MEPs. However, a number of new candidates likely to win seats at the European Parliament on May 22 have also given generously to the party.

Most parties ask their elected members to make a regular donation to the coffers, but this is the first time I have heard allegations that contributions determine the probability of somebody being given a winnable seat.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

'Deep down, every Labour MP knows Miliband is heading for defeat'

Dan Hodges is at his devastating best in today's Telegraph, clinically dismantling Labour's vapid election strategy:

For the last two years Labour has been trying to peddle the falsehood that it could win the election without establishing a reputation for basic economic competence. They could pull some magic trick – Ed Miliband’s aides referred it as “reframing the debate” – which meant that even though voters didn’t trust them to run the economy, they would be persuaded to trust them with something called “the real economy”. According to Labour’s argument, the Tories would always be ahead on macroeconomics, the economics that only really exist on charts and graphs in the Treasury. But out in the real world, where hard-working people are only one bill away from having to shove their children up the nearest chimney to make ends meet, Labour’s cost of living campaign would win the day.

And it was all a lie. A big, fat, juicy lie. First we had Deficit Denial. Then we had Recovery Denial. And finally we had Economy Denial. Yes, the loyalists claimed, Labour may well be 20 points behind on the economy. But it didn’t matter. Because Ed Miliband had promised to save people £9.30 a month on their heating bills.

Back in November, when Labour’s successful “reframing” of the economic debate was all the rage, I wrote a piece about how the Tory party now saw a clear path to victory. Labour strategists were talking about a “voteless economic recovery”. Their opposite numbers in Tory high command quietly pointed out that their poll numbers were already recovering, and the economic upturn would soon see the party’s moving back into alignment. “It’s just an order book recovery at the moment,” one Tory insider told me “People aren’t feeling it yet. When they do, we’ll draw level.”

They were right. Labour hasn’t reframed the economic debate. It has lost the economic debate. And with it, the election.

The second Big Lie surrounded Labour’s leader himself. Britain wanted Ed Miliband as its next Prime Minister, we were told. The only problem was, Britain didn’t quite know it yet.

No matter. The voters just needed to be given some time. Then they would come to see Ed Miliband as the Labour Party saw him. His courage in taking on the likes of Rupert Murdoch and the bankers and Gary Barlow.

Again, it was a lie. Yesterday’s Guardian ICM poll shows Ed Miliband has achieved the impossible. His approval ratings are now worse than Nick Clegg’s.

No love lost there but accurate nevertheless.

Welsh Tories at war

Yesterday I drew attention to an act of rebellion by Welsh Conservative AM, Bryon Davies, who is boycotting meetings of the Enterprise and Business Committee until his leader reinstates Nick Ramsey as chair. It does not look as if either is giving way soon.

As has been noted previously though, Byron Davies is not the only member of the Welsh Conservative Assembly Group who is prepared to disagree publicly with his group leader. Antoinette Sandbach is doing a pretty good job through twitter as is evidenced in the screenshot above.

Her tweet was posted during a leaders debate on ITV Wales last night and very much reflects the point I made in yesterday's blogpost. The Welsh Conservatives may be the official opposition in name but they are effectively a busted flush in the Senedd.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Welsh Tory split widens

The split in the Welsh Conservative Assembly Group widened into a chasm this morning as a fifth AM stepped up to publicly berate his leader.

The Western Mail reports that the South Wales West regional AM Byron Davies has hit out at Andrew RT Davies’ decision to replace Nick Ramsay as chair of the Enterprise and Business Committee, saying the committee chair appointment system was open to “moral corruption” by leaders and should be overhauled.

The paper adds that he has also criticised the sacking of four Conservative AMs for refusing to vote with the party leadership criticising UK Government policy on proposed income tax-varying powers as “ludicrous”.

It transpires that Byron has missed the last eight sittings of the Enterprise and Business Committee in protest at Nick Ramsay’s sacking, leaving the opposition one short on all but one of those occasions. I am not sure that the Presiding Officer will take a very charitable view of such a boycott.

I happen to agree with Byron Davies that Committee Chairs should be elected as they are in Westminster but there are processes that can be followed to deliver this reform and that matter is being considered at the moment.

Add to Byron's act of rebellion the continuing disaffection of the four rebels and it seems that that the Welsh Conservative Assembly Group is at war with itself. Despite this Andrew R.T. Davies went to his Welsh Conference calling for a united opposition against the Welsh Labour Government.

How he hopes to unite the opposition behind his leadership when he cannot control his own group is a very valid question.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Clegg conundrum

It is just eleven days until we go to vote in the European elections. The low turnout in these elections amongst those who go to the polling station in person most probably means that the majority of those who will vote have already done so.

The opinion polls do not look good for the Liberal Democrats, but as ever, we are at heart optimists (we have to be) and we will wait to see what happens on the night before drawing any conclusions. Nevertheless, commentators have already started to speculate on the future of Nick Clegg, not least in today's Observer column from Andrew Rawnsley.

As Rawnsley says, Nick Clegg has survived one poll disaster after another because our MPs all signed up to coalition. It was approved three times over: at a meeting of Liberal Democrats MPs and peers, with a vote of the Federal Executive, and at a special conference in Birmingham. In addition most MPs are enjoying being in government and respect Clegg for getting them there.

Finally, many are clinging to the idea that the party is more resilient than pollsters give them credit for and that the power of incumbency in 2015 will defy the odds. This has been bolstered by the result of the Eastleigh by-election which reinforced Nick Clegg's position as leader.

Andrew Rawnsley though thinks time may be running out for the Liberal Democrats Leader:

In the postmortem of these contests, it is inevitable that questions will be asked about the wisdom of Mr Clegg's decision to challenge Nigel Farage to TV debates. It was a high-risk move born of desperation, but I could understand his reasoning. The hope was that it would raise the Lib Dems' profile and garner some extra support by projecting themselves as the one unambiguously pro-European party with the guts to stand up to Ukip. That was the theory. The hard truth for Lib Dems, which some of the Clegg team will privately acknowledge, is that the debates went badly for their leader and the effect was counter-productive. The post-debate polls awarded victory to the Ukip leader by margins that exceeded the Lib Dems' fears. It was Nigel Farage who drew most benefit from the additional exposure.

In his time of trial, Nick Clegg shouldn't look to David Cameron to help him. Earlier in this parliament, the prime minister had an interest in preserving the Lib Dem leader; anything that threatened to collapse the coalition was scary to the Tory leadership. But now that the economy is recovering, a premature end to the coalition, even if it meant an earlier than expected general election, no longer holds such terrors for the Tories. If there were a period of minority Conservative government, many of them would positively welcome that. There are some Tory strategists who think the fall of Mr Clegg would serve their electoral interests. Says one: "One of the best things that could happen for the Conservative party is for Clegg to be knifed." His replacement as leader by a Lib Dem who might have more appeal to leftish voters would, they calculate, leach support from Labour.

It is possible that many will calculate after May 22nd that the only way to reverse Liberal Democrats' fortunes in the polls and rescue the party at the General Election is to put the likes of Vince Cable in charge. They may well be right. What actually happens though will depend on the electorate, but more importantly on the reaction of Liberal Democrats MPs to the results.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

How can we trust Labour with the economy when they don't understand the weekly shopping bill?

Yesterday's Times reports on the Labour own-goal that was their latest campaign poster. The paper points out that the claim that the UK coalition has increased VAT on food does not stand up to scrutiny, whilst the figures they quote are based more on fantasy than fact.

The poster depicts the Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders as “peas in a pod”, surrounded by images of everyday goods including fruit and vegetables, soft drinks, ketchup and biscuits. However, many of the items portrayed are in fact zero-rated for VAT, and so were not affected when the standard rate rose from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent in 2011.

As Joe Otten points out on Liberal Democrats Voice:

Unfortunately for Labour
With a reputation for economic competence hanging in tatters, it does Labour no good to demonstrate how poorly they understand VAT, and to get their sums so wrong on how much the average family spends on standard rated goods.

Labour really are scraping the barrel; now.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Nick Clegg wins an unlikely convert

It is not often nowadays that the Liberal Democrst win the vote of a major newspaper columnist but this is such a week.

Former Labour Party member and Daily Telegraph columnist Dan Hodges has written that the rather crass Labour Party Election Broadcast has persuaded him that a vote for the Liberal Democrats in the European Elections is the only course of action open to him:

He says that the key to his decision is that 'voting Labour isn’t the way to stand up to Ukip because Labour hasn’t been prepared to stand up to Ukip. In the face of the most racist, homophobic and misogynistic campaign in recent electoral history Labour’s done precisely nothing. With the notable exception of Caroline Flint, Labour’s front bench has been cravenly silent.'

He continues:

The Lib Dem leader is the only one to have the courage to take a stand against Ukip from the beginning. Yes, there’s obviously an element of political calculation behind his decision. He knows it’s good for the Lib Dem base – what’s left of it – to see him taking the fight to the anti-European Right. But moments when doing what’s right and what’s politically expedient at the same time don’t come along that often in politics. And when they do they do, those that engineered them deserve to be rewarded.

Clegg is also the only political leader who has actually been making these European elections about Europe. Farage has turned them into a referendum on immigration. Cameron has tried to turn them into an advert for the recovering economy. Miliband has tried to use them as a full-scale drill for the general election in 2015

What’s more, Clegg hasn’t just talked about Europe, he’s made the case for Europe. I’d have preferred it if he’d come up with slightly catchier sound-bite than “we’re the party of In”. And the pro-Europe camp is definitely going to have to come up with something catchier before the referendum in 2017. But it’ll do for now. And whatever mistakes the Lib Dem leader has made in the past – and I’ve unsparingly chronicled most of them – he’s the only politician to engage with the voters over Europe maturely and honestly during this campaign.

Nick Clegg has taken a stand. He deserves to have people standing with him.

So Nick Clegg's clear and unequivocal position on Europe has worked on one voter. Let us hope that other pro-Europeans see sense before 22 May as well.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

More UKIP hypocrisy

We are all used to hypocrisy from UKIP but the latest example takes it to a new height. After it transpired that despite their rhetoric regarding immigrants taking British jobs, most UKIP MEPs were employing non-British nationals, it has been discovered that the party are happy to extend that dispensation into other areas of their work.

The Independent report that the company used by UKIP to distribute party literature employs mostly workers who are originally from Eastern Europe and have moved to Britain in search of work:

MPs from UKIPs opposition parties have spoken out against the irony of a situation where a political party who repeatedly warns of the danger of European immigrants taking British jobs employing those very people they warn against.

Gavin Barwell the MP for Croydon Central, an area in which Fast Leaflet operates, said that you “couldn’t make it up” and that UKIP’s "hypocrisy had no bounds."

This is just another one in a long list of controversies that have surrounded the UKIP party in recent times.

The party came under fire last month when it was found that a poster which was intended to depict an out of work builder was in fact an Irish actor Dave O’Rourke who had recently starred in a film.

Just two weeks ago, Nigel Farage received a lot of criticism when he said that no one apart from his German wife could cope with the “long-hours” and “low pay.”

So what does it take exactly to burst this bubble?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Notorious political advertisments

How did I miss this article by David Williamson in the Western Mail outlining some of the most controversial political advertisments of recent times?

He starts with the 1978 image of a snaking queue of people leading to an unemployment office published by the Conservatives. The advert, which featured members of Hendon Young Conservatives was denounced in parliament, but as the election drew nearer it was republished with the tagline “Labour still isn’t working”. It helped win Margaret Thatcher her first term.

The Tories Demon Eyes poster of Tony Blair is there, as is the more successful 1992 poster featuring Labour's tax bombshell. David Williamson also mentions some American adverts such as the 1964 US television ad for President Lyndon Johnson’s election campaign, which switched from a young girl counting off petals to a nuclear countdown and a mushroom cloud.

The advert ran only once but the condemnation it triggered ensured it had a multimillion-dollar publicity impact and ensured the defeat of Barry Goldwater. There is also the Bush Senior advert which painted his opponent, Michael Dukakis as soft on crime by featuring the mug-shot of Willie Horton, who committed crimes while on a furlough release programme in the state. It was accompanied with the claim the governor had “allowed murderers to have weekend passes”.

Of course the advert programme we are currently contending with are the very effective ones published by UKIP. Their  £1.5m advertising campaign for this month's euro-elections includes posters portraying citizens from other EU countries as a threat to British jobs. One features a giant finger pointing at the reader with the catch-line: “26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?” Another has the EU flag burning a hole in the union jack.

It goes to show that no matter how worthy one's policy platform is, if you do not have an effective, hard-hitting message then you will get nowhere.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Freedom of Information request of the year

Can I please be told how many elected Members of the Welsh Assembly are medically obese?

The Assembly Commission does not gather or hold this information.

Monday, May 05, 2014

President Obama at 2014 White House Correspondents' Dinner

As it is a bank holiday and because this speech is very funny

Sunday, May 04, 2014

The car that can spot dementia

Having reviewed the papers on BBC Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement this morning I have an advantage in spotting all the strange and wonderful stories that are considered news on a bank holiday weekend, even before they reach the on-line editions.

Thus, I saw in today's Sunday Express a story that both intrigues and sends shivers down ones back, namely the development of a car dashboard that could detect the early signs of dementia. Apparently, the monitor in the dashboard detects dips in the motorist's mental ability by assessing eye movements and performance.

The scientist who is leading the project believes that the technology will be able to see the early signs of dementia as much as two years before a neurologist might spot it.  The paper says that Ford, Toyota and Lexus have already designed cars which can monitor the drivers condition or attentiveness so as to prevent heart attacks or accidents.

The big issue of course is who owns the data. The whole project smacks of big brother and there would need to be some quite radical safeguards to ensure that it was not abused.

On the other side of the argument the technology could also be used to identify drink drivers and disable the vehicle so as to stop them driving it. And of course the data might be used as a sort of black box to assess the driver's condition after an accident.

We do need a debate on the ethics of this technology before it is introduced. I think it is fair to say that if we do not have that debate and it starts appearing in cars by default then it could well generate some very controversial situations.  I would also want to ensure that legislation does not lag behind its introduction from a number of different angles.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Flash choir marriage proposal

Because I am just an old romantic

Friday, May 02, 2014

NHS complaints soar in Wales

Today's Western Mail reports that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of hospital complaints in Wales in the past five years.

They say that figures show that the number of patient complaints made in recent years has significantly increased in all health boards, with some organisations seeing the figure rise by more than 100%. Between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013, the all Wales total for complaints increased by more than 40%:

Cardiff and Vale UHB, which runs Wales’ largest hospital, the University Hospital of Wales, received the most complaints in 2012-2013, with the total standing at 1,883 – up 114% from 2008-2009.

ABMU Health Board saw a rise of 188% between 2009-2013, from 298 complaints to 858.

Between 2008-2009 and 2012-2013, Aneurin Bevan UHB saw an increase of 56%, Hywel Dda UHB recorded a rise of 36%, Cwm Taf UHB recorded a 32% increase and Powys Teaching Health Board had a 16% increase. Between 2011-2012 and 2013-2014, Betsi Cadwaladr UHB saw complaints rise by 19%.

An increase in complaints of course does not necessarily mean a worse performance on the part of the Welsh health service. It could indicate a greater awareness of the procedure, particularly given the new role assumed by the Public Services Ombudsman in taking on these issues.

Nevertheless it is a worrying trend and one that merits further analysis.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Welsh patients lose out

A study by Bristol University reported in today's Western Mail confirms what many of us have feared for some time, that English patients are up to seven times more likely to get costly, life-extending cancer drugs than their Welsh counterparts due to the establishment of a dedicated cancer drugs fund.

They say that the findings of a comparative, cross-border study by Bristol University concluded cancer patients in England became more likely to access life-extending cancer medicines through the Cancer Drugs Fund, which have otherwise been rejected as too expensive by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence which approves drugs for NHS use.

They add that there are currently over 70 drugs available through the Cancer Drugs Fund, generally to extend life or treat symptoms rather than cure, with more than 38,000 patients in England receiving them in the past three years.

Despite this the Welsh Labour Government have consistently rejected introducing the fund in Wales arguing that Welsh patients do have access to appropriate drugs. This study puts that claim to the sword. It is time for a rethink by the Welsh Health Minister.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?