Saturday, March 26, 2005

Farewell Jim

In the middle of last week when I blogged on Audrey Callaghan's death, I had the sense that Jim Callaghan himself wouldn't be wanting to hang on too much without her. Still I didn't expect the end for him to come so quickly.

Farewell Jim, I'll miss you.

Could Flight claim unfair dismissal?

Turn my back for a couple of moments and all hell breaks loose. A quick recap:

Howard Flight, MP for Arundel and South Downs and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party made some indiscreet comments about the Tories public spending committments at a private meeting that was taped and leaked to the Times. He quickly resigned his position as Deputy Chairman and that would normally have been that.

Except that Michael Howard decided to limit any damage to Tory election prospects and announced that Flight would not be the Conservative candidate in the upcoming election. It seems at the moment that Flight's local Conservative Association will indeed accept Central Office's order to ditch Flight.

Question is, does Flight have a claim for unfair dismissal? Until 1996, Employment Tribunals had regarded parliamentary elections as sarcosanct, judging that it's the voters that decide, not the parties, but in that year, two male Welsh Labour Party members successfully claimed that they had been discriminated against by Labour's NEC setting up an all-woman shortlist in their constituency. The Sex Discrimination Act was altered in 2002 to make it legal to discriminate on the grounds of gender for the purpose of all-woman shortlists, but the fact that an Employment Tribunal regards some seats as being in the gift of the Labour Party remains. Arundel and South Downs must be the Tory equivalent of the Welsh Valleys, even in the Labour landslide years of 1997 and 2001, Flight still won very comfortable majorities (14,000 in 1997, 13,700 in 2001). I think it's clear that Flight, without official Conservative Party sanction would be toast as far as being re-elected MP for Arundel and South Downs is concerned.

So, based on that, I think that an Employment Tribunal would regard Michael Howard's decision as a dismissal. The question then turns to, is it fair? There are five reasons in which a person can be legally dismissed, the only two that could apply to Flight are misconduct and lack of capability. I think that Flight could be sacked for misconduct, especially if, as reported, he was told an hour before the meeting, not to go past Tory party policy in his remarks. However such dismissals are automatically unfair, if a proper procedure is not followed. A proper procedure is not announcing that you're sacking someone in a Sky News interview as Michael Howard did. I think that Howard Flight has a good case if he wants to cause trouble.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Schiavo case

I very rarely comment on US cases for the simple reason is that from a distance of 3,000+ miles I am often ignorant of the issues. But here's a few random thoughts.

Living Wills: This case might have been easier had Terri written a living will. Daniel Drezner has suggested that the outcome of this whole issue could be an increase of living wills. I don't think that such things are useful. At the moment, I wouldn't want to be be in the state that Terri is in, I would want to be let go. However, if I wrote that in a living will, in five or ten years tie I might feel completely different. I don't think you can know how you would feel unless you're in the situation, then of course it's too late.

Slippery Slopes: For once I would agree with the right-wingers on this. In the UK, it was illegal to withhold food and water from a patient in PVS until 1993, when Tony Bland's family took a case to the House of Lords for the right to refuse food and water on his behalf. Now Charlotte Wyatt is on a "do not resucitate" order over her parent's objections. I'm not saying whether that's a desirable outcome or not, because I don't know, but there is a slope here.

The Demonisation of Michael Schiavo: Watching Fox News last night, there were many comments (particularly by Pat Boone and Bill O'Reilly) to the effect of saying that Michael Schiavo wants his wife to die simply because he will benefit financially from her death. In fact Pat Boone went further and suggested that Michael had actually caused the heart attack that originally caused the PVS. I have no idea whether that's right or not, but that's as little knowledge as Pat Boone has. If the Florida police haven't come up with anything in 15 years, I would suggest that there's nothing to find. The guy's dealing with what happened to his wife, cut him some slack.

Capital Punishment: It was interesting to see Fox trying to twist the Vatican's words, in the original press release it was clear that the Vatican was saying that both Capital Punishment and the withdrawing of food and water to Terri Schiavo is morally repugnant. Somehow in Fox's hands that changed to Terri Schiavo's death is worse because she's not a criminal. Catholic teaching is simple, every life is precious, no matter what the circumstances. I personally think that's too simplistic, but if you're going to quote the Vatican as supporting your own case, then you have to take the whole wafer (so to speak).

The biggest shame in all this is that Terri loved both her parents and her husband and it would tear her apart to know that all this has happened between them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I was reading a piece by an American guy called Raffi Melkonian what I spotted this.

British Tories, for example, constantly argue that people should vote for them because they'll protect the UK's flatly Stalinist free health service


Of course the NHS is a socialist idea, I'd argue with bureaucratic, wasteful and inefficient but at least I would understand where the argument is coming from, but Stalinist?

Last time I looked we weren't presiding over purges of the wrong type of doctor or shooting patients. So what's Stalinist about the NHS?

Please get an original idea

Blood Bowl Chaos Cup 1st Round

In case any of you were wondering, the Lothlorien Griffons found it difficult to beat 2-D Decimators, even a rookie dwarven team can grind out a touchdown, but they didn't have a hope of stopping a quick elven touchdown, it ended up 3-2 to the Griffons after extra time.

Meanwhile in a very ill tempered game in which six players was sent off and two were killed, the Sneaky Gitz got a taste of their own medicine and ended up without any players on the field at all and lost 2-1 after extra time.

Both teams go onto the second round, the Griffons are in the winners bracket but the Gitz face elimination if they lose again. The draw will be made on Sunday 3rd April, after all the 1st round matches have been played.

Thatcher's Back

Shame she can't straighten out her arm now.

Hat tip Guido Fawkes

Monday, March 21, 2005


It's probably best not to post when angered but Howard's Traveller policy prompts me to write:

Howard says that the laws will be the same for everyone - they already are the same for everyone. Under the Tory plans they won't be, if you or I trepass on private land, that's a civil offence, but if the Tories have their way it'll be a criminal offence for Travellers to do it, but not for non-Travellers. Local authorities will have enhanced powers to evict Travellers from land they own, but not have any power to evict other people. Local authorities will have the ability to compulsorily purchase land belonging to Travellers easier than they can for land belonging to other people.

What's next Howard, making Travellers all wear a yellow T on their clothing? You sick fuck.

What annoys me is that the policy is completely unworkable, he knows it is, but like the Lib Dems he knows that he'll never be in a position to have to implement it. A small, very small part of me actually wants Howard to win so that he will be exposed as the shallow fraud that he is.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Proud of Beharry

Private Johnson Beharry's Victoria Cross citation.

Private Beharry carried out two individual acts of great heroism by which he saved the lives of his comrades.

Both were in direct face of the enemy, under intense fire, at great personal risk to himself (one leading to him sustaining very serious injuries).

His valour is worthy of the highest recognition.

Remember him when people ask what immigrants have ever done for Britain. He's done more already than I'm ever likely to do.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

How not to become an MP Part 1

From the Guardian today:

Can an ex-ambassador to Uzbekistan beat Jack Straw in the general election? Craig Murray launches his campaign

Erm, no he can't beat Jack Straw.

He apparently knows nothing at all about Blackburn.

After a frozen plod through the snow, I come to a mini-cab firm, and a very chirpy driver called Ajit. He explains that the Blackburn Rovers v Burnley FA Cup 5th round replay has just finished, the biggest event in Blackburn for a long time. The hotels will be full with supporters. He's right; I end up sleeping in the Preston Novotel.

and later...

This is one of Blackburn's most striking features. It has an astonishing number of ex-pubs. Some have been converted to other uses, but many more are derelict. I wonder why there were so many and what factors caused this cull. Something else I have yet to learn.

I don't know Blackburn, I've never stepped foot in the town, but I think the clue might be earlier in the article.

Blackburn's Muslim community is primarily Gujarati

So he has noticed that there's Muslims in town then? It seems to make sense that if the Muslim population of a town increases then average alcohol consumption might well go down a bit.

Telegraph doesn't tell the whole truth

From the Telegraph today:

If the threshold [of basic rate stamp duty] had been increased with house price inflation since Labour came to power, it would be £143,000.

Yeah, and if the threshold of £30,000 in 1979 had been increased in line with house prices then it would have been £92,000 by 1979 (calculations based on Nationwide figures), instead the Tories only increased it to £60,000. And they pretty much got rid of MIRAS too, by the time the Tories got kicked out it was only available for mortgages under £30,000. Didn't see you lot moaning then.

That's the trouble you see, the Tories are just so much better at stealth taxing.

Link changes

Out go 4glengate, Free Democrats and Thought at the Meridian for inactivity. In come Shot by both sides for being funny, Non Trivial Solutions for being clever and Katherine's Adventures! for calling me clever.

Budget Feedback

Loved this guy on BBC Have Your Say

As usual, the Southeast will continue to support the other regions without any relief or consideration. I'm a first time buyer and my stamp duty bill is £9300. On a planet with 6 billion people, why is the government so intent encouraging population growth and, furthermore, why do I have to pay for it?
Greg, London, UK

I venture to suggest that a first-timer buyer buying a place for £310,000 isn't exactly who Gordon Brown was thinking of.

Also this guy has doesn't seem to understand when he's getting a good deal.

So income tax allowances only go up by inflation again - another disguised income tax increase.
Colin Shepherd, Farnham Surrey

You what? How on earth can that be a disguised tax rise?

Gave me a shock today

"What the hell has Gordon done?"

Audrey Callaghan

I can't quite remember James Callaghan as Prime Minister though I understand he is a remarkably decent man. One thing that's in common with everything written about him is the mutual love and devotion in his marriage to Audrey.

On Tuesday, after 67 years of married life, Audrey sadly died. My thoughts go out to Jim, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Blogging the budget

First some pre-budget comments on quotes ripped off the BBC

For the Lib Dems David Laws said: "The chancellor will no doubt tell us today how wonderfully the economy is doing," he said.

"But a lot of that is built on an increase in personal and consumer debt over the last few years - that makes the economy quite vulnerable potentially if interest rates ever do have to go up in a significant way."

Lucky that Labour are in charge then. Low interest rates don't happen by magic.

Mr Letwin's claim that Mr Brown was planning a 40% tax on profits from house sales has been dismissed by Treasury officials.

Make that Letwin's cynical lie. I suppose the Daily Mail will be trumpeting the fact that there's no CGT on normal house price sales (note to readers, there is CGT on second house sales above a certain amount) would have happened if it wasn't for them causing a stink about it.

...shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin branding stamp duty a "classic Labour stealth tax".
So classicly Labour that it's been around since 1765, those dastardly socialists bringing in something over 150 years before being a government.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Most stupid criminal ever?

Watching Crimewatch and watching the CCTV footage of an idiot who pulled off his balaclava while still in shot of the security cameras I was reminded of the most stupid criminal right here in Yeovil about 2 years ago.

An idiot who wanted money for drugs went around the corner to his local chicken take-away (that he used to use regularly and where the staff knew him by name) with a fake gun and robbed the takings, Unluckily for the crim, all he got hold of was the £30 float and the £2.50 takings that the takeaway had taken since it opened, 15 minutes before. Having hold of his ill-gotten gains, the idiot then went around the corner to the hostel he was living in while the owners of the takeaway phoned up the police to tell them who had robbed them.

When the cops turned up at the hostel 5 minutes later, the crim was still counting his money.

Fiend vs Fawkes

There's a little bit of a spat going on between two estimable bloggers who I have a lot of time for, Guido Fawkes and the Honorable Fiend over this post where Fiend calls Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor a f****r.

The reason why Fiend calls the Cardinal that is because the Cardinal is alleged to have protected known paedophiles when he was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton. I have no idea if O'Connor acted naively (his words) or not but if he acted in order to protect the good name of the Catholic Church rather than protecting children from predatory priests then I have a better name for him than f****r.

That's "The Accused".

on Religious Hatred

Mr Natural over at British Spin has posted a great piece disagreeing with Nick Cohen's opposition to the proposed law against religious hatred. Money quote

I agree with Nick that any restriction on freedom of speech is especially troubling and should be examined with the most sceptical of eyes. aftrer all, if you hold that all speech should be free, this is merely society falling down a slippery slope. however, it seems to me that the extension of a protection currently enjoyed by Jews and Sikhs to Muslims is neither a hypocritical pandering, nor merely a piece of political demagoguery. It would not work as the former, and whether you agree with it's proposals, there is a legitimate case for the law on social grounds.

Good stuff and he's going straight into my links.

Monday, March 14, 2005

I can still be political

In the mid-1980s, one of Thatcher's anti-union wheezes was to order ballots of trade union members every 10 years to see if they wanted the union to continue to spend money on political activities.

This wasn't really designed to stop unions being political, every single vote resulted in a clear majority to retain the current arrangements, but it does waste the union's money and district their attention for a couple of months.

So UNISON have just had their 2005 ballot, won it by over 5 to 1 but it's wasted something in the region of £500,000 for no reason.

Please Blair, can we repeal this stupid law sometime before 2015?

Even more A&E

Again from BBC News:

Martin Shalley, A&E consultant at Birmingham's Heartlands Hospital, says staff face daily battle to meet the target for patients to be seen, treated and discharged within the four hour limit.

Mr Shalley talks a lot of sense.

"We have nurse practitioners to help to see the walk-in patients. Nurses also see some patients with minor illness."

Absolutely sensible, there's no need for doctors to have to see every patient, an experienced nurse is completely able to assess and treat a patient.

However, Mr Shalley said that there were some occasions where patients needed to stay in A&E for longer, and there was just no way the four hour target could be met in those cases.

"Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. If a patient does need to stay in A&E for longer than four hours, they do. It's fine.

"It may be that there are no beds in the intensive care unit. Or they need a lot tests, or a patient may need to be resuscitated. It can all take time."

That's true as well, particularly here in the middle of the night, if a patient needs certain blood tests then the sample needs to be taken 25 miles to Taunton, the travel time cuts into the 4 hour wait. (It's one of the reasons why we miss our targets) That's why we're looking at redeveloping our diagnostic test procedures in order to be able to do blood tests more efficiently.

Mr Shalley said: "We do all believe in targets. They have improved emergency care.

"But 98% is just a little bit too high a target."

If 98% is too high for a hospital (and Mr Shalley's own hospital makes the targets so it can't be unreasonable) then the hospital has to look at the reasons why, it may not be in A&E, it may be a bottleneck elsewhere in the system.

Update on A&E Targets

Argh. Natasha Kaplinsky just said on BBC Breakfast that 40% of A&E Patients have been discharged early. Not even the BMA are saying that, the BMA say that in 40% of A&E departments someone has been discharged early.

If each of the 200 A&E Departments treated 50,000 patients per year (YDH is one of the smaller ones at 36,000 attendances, Victoria Hospital Blackpool was said this morning to be one of the biggest at 80,000 attendances) then that means the NHS in England has treated 10 million patients. So Natasha's just claimed that 4 million patients have been discharged early.

If we assume that early discharges are randomly spread throughout the NHS, if all A&E departments are exactly the same size and 60% of departments didn't have one then mathematics can give us the answer for how many early discharges there were. That's 102 early discharges, 102 early discharges in 10 million = 99.99898% chance of an individual patient not being discharged early. Chance of a department seeing 50,000 patients without having an early discharge, 99.99898% ^ 50,000 = 60.05%

Granted the early discharges are unlikely to be random, I can imagine a department hovering at 97.9% a couple of days before the end of the quarter and the word coming down that the department have to have no breaches in the last couple of days or else, then maybe 2 or 3 people might be discharged early. So a gut feeling would to double the calculated figure to something like 200 patients.

That's an awful lot less than 4 million.

The Candidate goes missing

The Candidate Speaks (an interesting, if erratically updated blog from a unnamed Tory PPC) has disappeared. So I'm moving it out of my links. If she returns, I'll put it back on.

Accident & Emergency Targets

At first glance the BMA report seems to be being spun by the BBC. I suspect that the report says that 40% of A&E doctors know of a case in their hospital where someone has been discharged inappropriately which is a different thing than saying 40% of A&Es discharge inappropriately.

However I can't comment usefully until the BMA actually publish this report on their website.

UPDATE: It's there now, although unfortunately the full report is only available to BMA members. The main points:

There are 200 A&E Departments in England, the BMA had replies back from 163. Because they talk about Departments, I suspect they sent the questionaire to either the Clinical Director of A&E (if the hospital has one) or the BMA rep for that hospital.

52% of the departments surveyed said that people had been admitted to an inappropriate ward. That doesn't surprise me, it's not dangerous for the patient, but a bed is a bed, and when a suitable bed becomes available then the patient is moved later.

40% said patients had been discharged before they were adequately assessed or stabilised. That's more dangerous, but lets get this in proportion, there are 200 A&Es, around 50,000 attendances each per year, that's 10 million A&E attendances. 80 of those departments have discharged someone early sometime in that year, so that can't be any more than 200 out of the 10 million treated. That's not too bad.

27% reported that care of the seriously ill or injured was compromised because of the pressure to the meet the 4-hour target. This is undefendable, but I would point out that the reason the target is 98% rather than 100% is that there are very valid medical reasons why you wouldn't want to discharge or admit in less than 4 hours. The classic example being someone that's completely drunk, there's nothing wrong with them so they shouldn't be admitted, you shouldn't discharge because they are incapable and it's possible that the drunken stupor could be hiding something more serious, so you let them breach the 4 hour target and just keep an eye on them.

I've just heard Vincent Cable (Lib Dem, Treasury) criticise the Government for setting targets for political reasons. Of course it's political, that's what governments are there for. These targets are not easy, they require extra resources which are going into A&E departments, but both the Tories and Lib Dems are in effect saying that they want to turn the clock back to the old days when waiting 8 hours with a broken wrist was nothing unusual.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Blood Bowl Chaos Cup

Away from the league now, it's onto the Cup and both DM Andy teams have drawn non-league opposition.

Sunday 20th March 11:00am Sneaky Gitz v Don't Hurt Us

The Sneaky Gitz were active last year as a Division 1 team and acquited themselves well for a Goblin team before being disbanded due to me being unable to commit to fulfilling two teams fixtures. They were renowned and disliked for using various underhand tactics in order to level up the disadvantage of being Goblins.

Strangely the Gitz may have prefered to come up with a harder matchup than the fellow Goblins of Don't Hurt Us. The usual tactic of knifing the opposition's best player won't work in a team of no stars like DHU. However class should tell and I fancy the Gitz to sneak a win by the odd touchdown in five.

Sunday 20th March 2:30pm Lothlorien Griffons v 2-D Decimators

On paper, the Griffons look to be one of the strongest teams outside the Premiership and should have no difficulties against the new Dwarven team. The contrast between elvish pass and run versus dwarven bash and carry is iconic Blood Bowl and it should be a fascinating match. My prediction, one touchdown should win the day and I expect the Griffons to score that one.


Just another thought on the post below:

From Sky News today

People suffering from Alzheimer's disease will stage a protest this week over plans to cut back on crucial medication.

They are planning to march on Parliament to demand that the NHS scrap proposals to drop drugs it says are too expensive.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has published draft guidance saying that four drugs, known as cholinesterase inhibitors, are not cost-effective.

No, no, no, not cost-effective does not mean too expensive and it's lazy and dishonest reporting to make that mistake.

The drugs are not too expensive, the NHS happily prescribes drugs that are 20 times as expensive. They don't work well enough for the cost to be worth it.

I may be Labour but...

As the banner shows, I think that Labour are the safest hands for the NHS, but sometimes I do have to criticise.

One of the best things that the Labour government have done is leave things that are better done by experts alone, appoint them, give them parameters and let them handle things. The independence of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee being the most well known, but Labour have also set up the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE)

NICE are charged with evaluating treatments and deciding if they are cost-effective. After all, we don't expect politicians to know drugs work and what doesn't.

Trouble is what happens when NICE make a judgement that's not popular? Simple the government bullies them into changing their mind.

From today's Observer

Ministers reprieve Alzheimer's treatment

Controversial plans to withdraw drugs for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia from the NHS are to be blocked by government ministers amid growing political and public anger.

Ministers acknowledged yesterday that there was widespread 'bafflement' at guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) which said the drugs were not cost-effective and should not be freely available to patients on the NHS.

I am particularly struck by the arrogance of this comment.

Revealing that his department will submit a report this week extolling the benefits of the drugs, he [Stephen Ladyman] added: 'It may well be that once they have looked at the extra evidence, they will come to a different decision.'

If the DoH are going to make the decisions now, what's the point in having NICE.

Disappointed in Iain Dale

I've been a regular commenter on Iain Dale's blog for a few months now, indeed it was his blog that got me into blogging in the first place which I will always be grateful to him for. But he has disappointed me by removing the comments facility from his blog.

A few weeks ago, there was a spate of commenters badgering him on various issues, he threatened to withdraw the comments facility if the level of personal abuse continued. That seemed to work, the level of debate improved.

Today, the only activity on the site seemed to be myself and a tory supporter having an interesting and polite discussion on the NHS. In that I made a comment on the end of one of my posts along the lines of "Iain, do you want an NHS based on clinical need or ability to pay" It's a tough question to answer and was meant to be, but he is someone who hopes to be elected a Tory MP so I think it's fair enough, given that the inevitable result of the Tory plans are to make poorer people wait longer.

Though, instead of answering me, he shut off his comments claiming abuse that just didn't happen.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

Electoral System biased?

I've seen a few comments in the right-wing side of the blogosphere complaining that the UK political system is biased in favour of the Labour Party.

It's certainly not deliberately biased in favour of the Labour Party, even though Labour were more efficient than the Tories in the mid 90s round of redistricting, the effect of that was not large, and in any case the political parties are not able to gerrymander seats in the way that US parties can. So it's not biased delibrately.

However the FPTP electoral system we have here, combined with a two and a half party system does lead to the potential of odd effects happening. But it doesn't mean that the system in itself is biased to one side or the other.

Say there were 3 major parties with roughly equal support, We'll call them Party A, Party B and Party C. Parties A and B both dislike Party C far more than they dislike each other and they agree to only stand 1 candidate against Party C in each constituency. The effect is just a stronger version of the effect of Labour ignoring a couple of hundred constituencies every election for the Lib Dems to have a free run at.

Back to the example, this did happen in 1931, and the Party C (Labour) got only 52 seats despite getting 30.6% of the vote whereas the National Coalition got 554 seats. Even the National Liberals (part of the Coalition, later merged with the Tories) got 37 seats with less than 4% of the vote. (Source David Boothroyd)

The effect was against Labour then, as it was when Labour outpolled the Tories 48.8% to 44.3% and still won less seats in 1951, but it was against the Tories in Feb 1974. when they won more votes but less seats than Labour.

But it's the same system, the system can't be biased if it favours different parties at different times. It's just that FPTP is unstable in multiparty situations.

Who does Gaddafi Jr want to buy

According to the New York Times Saadi el-Qaddafi, the sometime Perugia player and son of the Colonel is hoping to purchase the controlling share of a well-known British soccer team for $300 million.

So who could he mean?

Manchester United is out, with a market capitalisation at the moment of $1.4bn then $300m wouldn't be enough. On the other hand Southampton would be too cheap, a market cap of less than $17m. Even Spurs are too cheap at $60m, Newcastle are at $100m. He did say British, but no Scottish club could be in the frame, Celtic's market cap is less than $30m, Rangers are privately owned, but wouldn't be 10 times the worth of Celtic.

Liverpool aren't publically traded either, but David Morgan had enough money in the summer with $140m and I can't see Newcastle being worth more than Liverpool. Saadi would need more than $300m to prise Roman out of Chelsea.

So I reckon, he has to be talking about Arsenal.

D&D Players "detached from reality"

according to the Israeli Defence Forces

From Ynetnews via Ace of Spades and Natalie Solent

Ynet has learned that 18-year-olds who tell recruiters they play the popular fantasy game are automatically given low security clearance.

“They're detached from reality and suscepitble to influence,” the army says.

Fans of the popular roleplaying game had spoken of rumors of this strange policy by the IDF, but now the army has confirmed that it has a negative image of teens who play the game and labels them as problematic in regard to their draft status.

That's up to the IDF, but I seem to remember most of TSR in the early days being ex US Army.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Eric Pickles Lies

Eric Pickles, the Tories shadow for Local Government and the Regions has a good old rant in today's Guardian. He has some good points, but in his haste, accuses the Prime Minister of things he simply didn't do.

Mr Blair has added an extra layer of regional government and subverted true local democracy.

Err, no Mr Pickles.

The Government Offices (regional executives) were set up in 1994 (example here)
The Regional Assemblies were set up in 1996 (example here)

Who was the Prime Minister then Mr.Pickles?

Did the US nuke Sudan

From BBC News

The Sudanese government had a nasty shock this week, when it read on a US Congress website that the Americans had conducted nuclear tests in the country.
A House of Representatives committee report mentioned tests conducted in Sudan between 1962 and 1970.

It turned out to be a typing error (the website should have refered to Sedan, Nevada) but don't you think if the US had conducted tests in Sudan, the Sudanese would have noticed at the time?

What the Tories won't tell you.

From BBC News today:

Good progress has been made on improving cancer care in England, the National Audit Office says.

That's the target to reduce cancer death rates for under 75s from the 1997 figure of 141 deaths per 100,000 population per year by 20% to 113 by 2010.

The latest 2003 figures show that the rate is down to 122. As the NAO say, there's more to do, but we're well on the way.

UPDATE: Iain Dale is exercised about John Reid's comment that "If the Conservatives get in there won't just be cancelled operations - there'll be cancelled lives." But the Cancer data shows the proof. Even if death rates had remained static under the Tories (highly generous as the trend was going up before 1997) then that's 19 deaths less per 100,000 people per year from cancer. By my reckoning that over 10,000 people who didn't die in 2003 that would have if the Tories were still in charge of the NHS.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Prescription Charges rise

on 1st April, prescription charges will go up by 10p to £6.50. It's gone up 10p every year since 1998 so it's not really news, but I think this is the first year that the Tories have decided to go on the attack about it.

From BBC News today:
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley criticised the announcement.

He said: "From the government that brought you the promise of free healthcare and accused the Conservatives of wanting to introduce charges, comes this announcement of higher NHS charges."

That's from a party that when they were in government last increased prescriptions on average by 20.4% every year for 18 years. If they'd carried on at that rate it would be nearly £25 by now.

Some history for Mr Lansley (source Royal Pharmaceutical Society)
Labour 1945-51: Prescriptions free
Tories 1951-64: Prescription fee introduced, 2 shillings (10p) by 1964
Labour 1964-70: Fee rose from 2 shillings (10p) to 2/6 (12½p)[Average rise 3.7%]
Tories 1970-74: Fee rose from 2/6 (12½p) to 20p [Average rise 12.4%]
Labour 1974-79: Fee stayed at 20p [Average rise 0.0%]
Tories 1979-97: Fee rose from 20p to £5.65 [Average rise 20.4%]
Labour 1997- : Fee rose from £5.65 to £6.50 in 2005 [Average rise 1.8%]

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Jousting's Back

That's right, the first jousting tournaments for 530 years are going to happen this summer.

Makes me want to start playing Pendragon again.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The (young) Saints go marching on

The Saints U-18 team carried on their campaign in the FA Youth Cup by defeating West Ham United U-18 by 4 goals to 1.

This sets up a two-legged semi final against either Derby or Wolves who play their quarter-final on Friday week.

When is a tax a tax?

Nick Clegg, writing in the Guardian, is obviously stung by the claim that the Lib Dems want to bring in a tax on dogs.

"Apparently, the newspaper went on, a vote for me would usher in all sorts of additional evils such as - wait for it - a "tax on pets". Apart from the relatively minor fact that it is not Lib Dem policy to tax pets, but simply to introduce a dog registration scheme as demanded by countless pet owners since dog licensing was abandoned in 1987, I was left nonplussed."

Okay, it's not a tax, but everyone with a dog will be forced to pay it, it sounds like a tax to me.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Agreeing with the Adam Smith Institute

Something odd must be happening, I find myself in agreement with the Adam Smith Institute on the subject of the flat tax.

It would be simpler to collect, harder to avoid and it'll end these endless slanging matches between parties on arcane tax plans that no-one seems to understand. Example, the council tax v local income tax arguments.

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Thanks to Guido Fawkes for the chance to put my heart on my sleeve

DM Andy. Proud of the NHS. Proud of Labour

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Remember this

From the Telegraph today:

"The sooner the Human Rights Act is repealed, the sooner British justice will be able to re-establish its contact with common sense."

That'll be the same Human Rights Act those hunters want to abolish the hunt ban right?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Even more MMR proof

From BBC News

Scientists say they have strong evidence that the MMR vaccination is not linked to a rise in autism.

Researchers looked at the incidence of autism in a Japanese city before and after the withdrawal of the measles, mumps and rubella jab in 1993.

New Scientist reports autism rates kept rising after MMR was withdrawn.

Michael Rutter of the Institute of Psychiatry, who worked on the study, said it "rubbished" the link between MMR and a general rise in autism.

It may rubbish it, but I doubt it'll change anyone's mind on the subject.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Globalizers

Long-term readers (if I have any) will remember me making a wager with Guido Fawkes over David Blunkett. I lost and consequently Guido won £50 off me.

I haven't paid it over yet, his unwillingness to have me send him money directly (I assume because I don't think he's really called Guido Fawkes) coupled with my very infrequent trips to the Smoke meant that things were complicated.

I really don't like owing anyone money, so when Guido emailed me today to give me a cause to donate it to, I was delighted. He wanted me to donate it to the Globalization Institute, who they I wondered.

Well, Milton Friedman on the front page doesn't look too promising, but it's not his fault that Thatcher thought he was wonderful. The aims of the Institute look very good, I approve of free trade, as long as it's not lopsided with us bullying developing nations into accepting our goods and services while hiding behind protective tariffs ourselves.

I was just marvelling at finding a "right-wing" economics think-tank that I agree with when I saw a name that rang a bell, Alex Singleton. The Institute describe him as "Britain's most prolific critic of 'fair trade' schemes." That's right, he was on the BBC a couple of weeks back sprouting a load of nonsense that I couldn't follow about the evils of fairtrade, something about it distorting the market.

There's not a rational argument against fair trade schemes, but there is an irrational one.

Let's demolish the often cited rational one first, which is the one I think Alex was getting at on the tv. That it's dangerous, socialist thinking which distorts the market. Let's use Alex's own words to disabuse that thinking.

One of the most unhelpful theories taught in basic economics courses is the notion of perfect competition, which has been captured by anti-capitalists to attack capitalism. They argue that brands are anti-market because they prevent perfect competition, a state where products are identical and where companies can only make 'normal' profits, whatever they are.

However, there is no such thing really as perfect competition, nor would it be desirable. In markets, different firms compete not only on price, but also on image and quality. In the car industry, the cars from Peugeot, Ford and Rover compete, but the products are not homogeneous. Consumers are made better off by this lack of sameness: manufacturers add new features and better designs in an attempt to lure custom, leading to ever improving products. In short, the perfect competition model is wrong because it oversimplifies how the market works. Ludwig von Mises, founder of the neo-Austrian school, would no doubt describe the model as "two hypothetical curves."

Add to this the fact that brands help consumers make choices about which products to buy. I know that if I buy cakes from Tesco, they will be of a high quality. I may end up spending more than buying from Mrs Globbin's shop, but I am paying for the peace of mind. When I see a can of Dr Pepper for sale, I know it is a product I enjoy and can trust.

I can't see the difference between that perfectly good explanation and the fairtrade issue. When people buy coffee, or chocolate or even footballs they buy for a number of reasons, price being only one, you're also buying an image. to paraphrase Alex's words, I may end up spending more than buying from Mrs Globbin's shop, but I am paying for the peace of mind. When I see a jar of Fairtrade coffee for sale, I know it is a product I trust and know I'm not giving my hard-earned money to big business.

That leaves only the irrational one, which is that fairtrade is dangerous hippy lefty nonsense.

Rant over, it's Guido's money after all, so £50 will be in the post tomorrow.