Monday 28 February 2011

North Africa

The sentiments expressed in the final three verses of a hymn we sang at church yesterday must surely resonate around North Africa at this crucial time.

And lo, already on the hills
The flags of dawn appear;
Gird up your loins, ye prophet souls,
Proclaim the day is near:

The day in whose clear shining light
All wrong shall stand revealed,
When justice shall be throned in might,
And every hurt be healed;

When knowledge, hand in hand with peace,
Shall walk the earth abroad:
The day of perfect righteousness,
The promised day of God.

F.L. Hosmer, (1840 - 1929)

Sunday 27 February 2011

Damaging Cuts

The announcement of each of the following cuts has provoked protests which seem to me to be perfectly justifiable. They are listed in no particular order of priority, except that I believe the cuts to the BBC World Service to be the most stupid.

BBC World Service
Sure Start
Probation Service
Women's Refuges
Local government services to the elderly, roads, SEN support and fire and rescue services
Unniversity teaching in humanities
Adult learning needs
UK Film Council (which financed that nice little earner, The King's Speech")
Forestry Commission (there is a cut to funding as well as the now abandoned privatisation threat.)

Compared to the £9billion on defence procurement which has simply been wasted, as we learned this week, and the £42billion on uncollected tax, the savings on each of the above are peanuts.

Incidentally, John Lanchester's highly readable explanation of the financial crash, "Whoops", has a vivid way of explaining the difference between a million and a billion. A million seconds lasts just under twelve days, a billion seconds lasts almost 32 years! When I first read this I didn't believe it, but a few minutes on a calculator (or a bit of long division if you can remember how to do it)confirms it to be true.

Deficit scaremongers make much of the dubious idea that the burden of our debts will fall on our children and grandchildren. But, as Martin Wolf has pointed out (Financial Times, 25th November 2010):

...governments should not sacrifice the future to the pressures of the present. What is the sense of cutting spending today if the result is a poorer country tomorrow? This point turns on its head the refrain that we should at all costs avoid burdening the future with additional debt.

Since Lloyd George's "People's Budget" of 1909 we have spent a century, albeit with some backward as well as forward steps, building up a more responsible, caring and civilised society. We have a duty to hand that on to our children and grandchildren, not destroy it by attacking the easy targets and ignoring the waste and tax avoidance and evasion of the powerful.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Another warning shot

Tony Greaves is one of the founding fathers of the community politics which are the source of the strength of Liberals and Liberal Democrats in local government, and on which foundation the parliamentary party stands. Political opponents depict him as the epitome of the bearded sandal-wearing Liberal, friends as the guru of social liberalism. Liberal Democrat News has been dull since he stopped writing his regular column. Our leaders in government will do well to take note of his letter in yesterday's Guardian regarding the maketisation of social services.

Tony writes:

"..Liberal Democrat policies are for decentralisation and democratisation of public services, not hiving them all off to whichever private companies want to run and shape them for profit, with the inevitable loss of democratic involvement and accountability. Throwing a few high profile crumbs to charities will not mask a policy of wholesale privatisation or make it acceptable to the public. I have little doubt that the Liberal Democrats as a party will refuse to accept this rightwing nonsense - which anyway is not in the coalition agreement..."

On the same letters page a correspondent from Manchester explodes the convenient Tory myth of "public sector bad, private sector good" by asking:

"Where is the evidence that the private sector is better? Heathrow airport? British airways? Network Rail? The cartel that is now our energy companies? And what about the whole financial sector? Didn't their greed, short-termism and incompetent management almost bring about the collapse of the western world's financial systems(saved by public intervention)?..."

The proposed public sector "reforms," as currently constituted, are as ideologically driven as the public sector cuts, are illiberal and should be opposed

Tuesday 22 February 2011

A V Referendum III

For criticisms of the "Yes" campaign's arguments for AV please see the previous post. Here are eight arguments which in my view put a more positive and rational case for voting "Yes."

1. AV will put an end to the need for negative voting. This is sometimes called tactical voting but "negative" is a more accurate term. It means voting not to put someone in but to keep someone out: for example in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election urging Conservatives to vote Liberal Democrat in order to "keep Labour out." Negative voting is a regular feature of FPTP. Even in the bad old days of two party politics thousands of of Conservative votes were cast, not so much in support of Conservative policies as to "keep Labour out" and vice versa.

AV will enable everyone to cast their first preference vote positively for what they really believe in, and their second either for a genuine second preference or to keep someone out. The French do this expensively by holding two elections a week apart. In the first they vote "with the heart", in the second, after minor parties have withdrawn, "with the head" for the realistic choice. With AV we get the two for the price of one.

2. AV will produce a more civilised and rational debate. Parties will be seeking second preference as well as first preference votes, and therefore will not be so rude and scornful about each other or deliberately misrepresent each other. As Ed Milliband put it in last Thursday's Guardian:

"AV will ...force parties to admit where there is agreement between them , prising open our confrontational system so that similarities sometimes become as important as differences...Exaggerating disagreement in order to create black and white choices under first-past-the-post has only added to a particular style of politics that turns off the electorate."

In other words, AV will encourage the politics of co-operation rather than confrontation.

3. Under AV there more seats will become marginal, so the parties will have to campaign to gain the support of a winder section of the electorate rather than a tiny handful of "floating" voters in a small number of marginals.

4. AV will increase the choices open to the elector and therefore the sovereignty of each electorate. We are not forced to give a second, third or fourth preference, but we can if we wish.

5. AV will allow the views of minorities to come to the fore more quickly. For most of the second half of the last century Liberal/liberal Democrat representation was so small that our views could be ignored, so it took fifty years or so for valuable ideas for which we argued way back in the fifties and sixties (devolution to the nations and regions, a stakeholder society,and, yes, electoral reform, to name but three) to be considered in the mainstream. Britain has lost out because of this delay. Today there are other vital minorities struggling for a voice. The Greens are an obvious example. AV will bring their important views to the fore more quickly

6. By encouraging positive voting for a first choice, AV will give a truer reflection of the real opinions of the nation.

7. The House of Commons will be more representative of those opinions.

8. The Commons will become more authoritative, since each MP will have the support of at least half of his or her electors.

Alas I am not a publicist so I have no idea how to sloganise the above or condense it into the 100 word limit required by the Yes campaign website.

Monday 21 February 2011

A V Referendum II

As a signed-up member of the "Yes to fairer votes " campaign I've received the following Email from one of the organisers:

Your story could be used to help the campaign. It might be placed on our website, used in your local press or used on a leaflet.

If you’d like to get involved then tell us in 100 words why you’re supporting Yes. If you need some help you can tell us:

· What makes you most angry about MPs?
· How do you feel about MPs who have jobs for life?
· How did the expenses scandal make you feel

My true feelings in response to these three questions will not help the campaign at all. Firstly I'm not really angry about MPs: most of them work very hard for long hours doing a rather thankless job. I am, however, exceptionally concerned that too much of their time is spent acting as welfare officers for their constituents and too little examining policy and holding the government to account. Alas the "Yes" campaign seems to want to exacerbate the present situation.

Secondly it doesn't worry me at all the some MPs have a job for life, if that is what a majority of their constituents want. The idea that once a politician has secured a "safe" seat he or she is likely to sit back and do little is, in my experience, far from the truth. I have lived in a safe seat for most of my life in the UK. First it was safe Labour, then safe Conservative, and now safe Labour again, all the result of boundary changes. But both Conservative and Labour incumbents gained reputations as "good constituency MPs" and the last two have both worked hard on my behalf, largely on issues relating to Third World Development, although my affiliation to the Liberal Democrats is well known to them.

Thirdly, on the expenses scandal, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Who has not pushed the rules to the limits of legality what the prevailing culture accepted it and those in charge actually encouraged it. Of course some MPs went beyond the legal or moral limits, but most did not. The expenses scheme was really a method of topping up a basic salary which was seen as inadequate but politicians lacked the courage to fix - a failure of the system rather than of individual MPs.

After each of at least the last three elections there has been public outrage at the unfairness of the result. This outrage has not been confined to Liberal Democrats, Greens and others short changed by the electoral system, but has been pretty universal. Unfortunately the outrage has lasted about ten days or so and then the media carnival has moved on. It is the task of the "Yes" campaign to re-create this outrage for the 5th May. So far I am not very confident of the methods and arguments being used.

Saturday 19 February 2011

A V Referendum I

The Six O'clock News on Radio 4 yesterday reported that David Cameron and Nick Clegg had "traded blows" in the issue of the referendum A V . I admit that I haven't listened to both speeches in their entirety, but the clips I've heard from both exuded calmness, reasonableness and rationality (though naturally I placed Clegg's speech higher on the rationality scale that Cameron's). Of "blows" there was no sign. Why oh why does political debate in Britain have to be described in terms of gladiatorial combat?

Sometimes the seating arrangements of the House of Commons are blamed, but this debate will now be heard largely outside parliament, so that's no excuse. I am sorry to see the BBC creating sensationalism where none exists. Surely we can leave that to the red-tops. We rightly deplore the bear garden backbiting that characterises so many parliamentary exchanges, particularly in Questions to the Prime Minister, but why pretend that this childishness happens when politicians are behaving for once in a reasonably grown-up fashion?

Sir Ernest Barker defined democracy as "government by discussion." Let us for goodness sake have a reasonable discussion, even a "big conversation" if ex-Blairites prefer the term, based on relevant facts rather than wild imaginings, about this vital next stage in the development of our democratic machinery.

Incidentally, I suspect the BBC may have caved in to pressure form the "No" campaign and no longer refers to the referendum as being about electoral reform. This is obvious nonsense, since various far more highly debatable proposals are routinely refereed to as "reforms" without the blink of an eyelid: NHS Reform, Education Reform, Reform of the Welfare system, to name but three. If you have not yet sent a protest to the BBC Director General on this issue please do so as a matter of urgency.

Friday 18 February 2011


Happily I was never bullied at school, nor did I bully anyone else, so I'm not really sure of the techniques. However, I suspect that if you can't bully the biggest boys you turn your attention to the lesser fry. That is exactly what the government is now doing twice over.

In the first place it is continuing Labour's failure to tackle the tax evaders and avoiders and instead focusing attention on the benefits recipients and the unemployed at the bottom of the pile. Way back in the early 80s a Tory (sic)MP protested that forcing people relentlessly to apply for jobs when there aren't any is like making people play bagatelle on a board with no holes. (Note to younger readers: bagatelle is a non mechanical precursor of pinball)

Secondly, having failed to make any significant dent in the bankers' bonuses, which amount to millions, the government has turned its attention to local authority chief executives who may earn over what is by comparison a paltry £200,000 a year. Reducing such salaries, although they are enormous by any normal standards, will not of course make any significant difference to the public sector deficit. The move is an example of petty vindictiveness and the Tories' ideological assault on the public sector whilst cosying up to the private sector. Liberal Democrats should be ashamed to be associated with it.

On the general matter of wage differentials, the national minimum wage is at present £5.39 per hour. For a 40 hour week that's £237.20, or £12,334.40 per year. Applying the x20 multiplier which David Cameron suggested for public sector wages, no one in the public sector should get more that £245,000 a year (and very few do). In my view a multiplier of x10 would be quite sufficient to reward talent, training, effort and enterprise (Plato thought x4 was enough) and this should apply to both public and private sectors. Any earnings above £123,000 a year should be taxed to the hilt. If greedy people don't like it they can go somewhere else and the rest of us can enjoy the benefits(as demonstrated by Wilkinson and Pickett) of the more egalitarian society which would result.

Thursday 17 February 2011

"U" turn, we want you to.

As a result of public pressure the coalition has apparently decided to abandon its plans to sell off publicly owned forests. Thanks to any readers who signed the Woodlands Trust petition. We've done our bit.

Unfortunately this sensible decision will be mocked by the media and Labour opposition as a sign of weakness, a "U" turn, an example of the government's incompetence and unfitness to govern. I prefer to see it as, if not quite a sign of strength, at least evidence of a more "grown up" attitude towards politics.

As far as I know the term "U" turn did not exist until motorways were built and it was coined to tell us that we were not allowed to turn round on one carriageway. It entered into politics when the Tories under Ted Heath (now regarded more benignly than he was at the time) abandoned his "Selsdon Man" monetarist policies in the early 70s when Heath realised the damage they would cause to the social fabric of the nation. Among other things, having argued that the state should not rescue "lame ducks" he nationalised Rolls Royce. A great deal of unnecessary pain would have been avoided if his successor as Tory leader had shown the same flexibility.

Therefore the coalition's so called "U" turn should be welcomed,and it would improve the maturity of political debate if this term, now regarded as pejorative, were abandoned, and something more positive, such as "flexibility" or "a listening government" were substituted.

Today the Welfare Reform Bill is to be introduced. Whatever its merits and demerits, there are bound to be some mistakes in it. I have long believed that legislative rules should be altered so that every Act of Parliament is automatically reviewed after six months of its operation, and as a matter of routine re-examined by parliament and altered as necessary in the light of practical experience, without any loss of face on the part of the government and the necessity for a completely new Act.

Quakers will be aware of Advices and Queries 17, which concludes: " Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken." (my italics) That's a pretty good rule for politics as well as for private life.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

NHS "Reform"

I can't now remember the exact dates, but within the past 15 years I spent six years as the Liberal Democrat representative in the local Community Health Council, the body which monitored the local NHS. I started out as an enthusiast, eager to find out how the NHS worked and what its problems were, but soon found that, as soon as I'd begun to get the hang of things, the system changed, new jargon was introduced and I had to start all over again. So "reform" of the NHS is nothing new. The Labour government eventually displayed their indifference to local participation by abolishing the CHC and, as far as I could see, nothing was put in its place.

Given their explicit promise not to impose further "top down" reorganisation of the NHS I cannot understand why the Tories aren't receiving anything like the flack the Liberal Democrats received for breaking our word on tuition fees.

I have no clear view how, if at all, the NHS should be reorganised. What I do know is that, as soon as the reorganisiation of any organisation is on the cards the upwardly mobile participants within in it promptly make the securing of their own position in the new structure, or preferably their promotion within it, their first priority, and the function for which they're paid, in this case healing people, becomes secondary. So however dysfunctional the present system is, it would be better to leave it alone for a while so the staff can concentrate on the job we want them to do.

Two aspects of the proposed reorganisation are extremely worrying.

1. GP's are trained to heal, not to manage. They will either do the job badly or contract out the work to private firms, who will do the job but only for a profit. Either way the NHS suffers.

2. Allowing "any willing provider" to tender for NHS work is not only privatisation, but allows the private providers to "cherry pick" the easy and profitable work and leave the long-term or difficult treatments to the NHS. I believe the private insurance systems such as BUPA already do this.

There are proposals to have the NHS reforms debated at the Liberal Democrat spring conference. I hope his will happen so that those who really know what they're talking about can thoroughly explore the pros and cons. Party managers blocked a debate on student fees at the conference to approve the coalition and the result is the most serious debacle in Liberal Democrat history. Stifling debate in the interests of unity is always likely to be counter-productive. I hope they will not make the same mistake again.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Voting Rights for Prisoners

There are 57 Liberal Democrat MPs in parliament, but there were only 22 votes against maintaining the blanket ban preventing prisoners from voting, and at least one of them (Denis MacShane) was from another party. So where were at least 36 Liberal Democrat MPs when a Liberal voice was needed? We are the party of internationalism, of international law, and above all of human and civil rights, and yet when there is a clear need to stand up for our values and be counted over half our parliamentary party is not there.

The movement to defy the European Court of Human Rights and maintain the ban shows British politics at its worst: an odious mixture of narrow nationalism, populism and anti-Europeanism whipped up by the tabloids, with the Daily Mail as usual in the lead. By defying international law (a law which Britain was instrumental in making) and attempting to maintain the ban we ally ourselves with some of the least liberal and democratic states in Europe, including Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia and Georgia, and separate ourselves from the the mainstream which includes Greece, cradle of democracy, France, birthplace of the Enlightenment, and Italy, all of whom allow at least some prisoner to vote, and Germany, which actually and rightly encourages prisoners to vote as part of the rehabilitation process.

On issues such as this it is important for politicians to stand up against populism (as they do, for example , on capital punishment), do what is right and try to educate the public. In this area of human and civil rights Liberals should be in the lead, not hiding themselves away.

Friday 11 February 2011

Two Welcome Warning Shots

Our political opponents will be preaching that the resignation of Liberal Democrat Lord Oakshott as coalition economic spokesman in the Lords, and the letter to The Times signed by 90+ Liberal Democrat councillors arguing that the cuts are too fast and too deep are the first cracks in the unity of the party. They will be proclaiming that history is about to repeat itself, and as has happened twice before, most of those in government will merge with the Tories and the rest of us will resume our post 1920s role as a party of protest and bright ideas with no real prospect of being, or even desire to be, the government.

This is undoubtedly a possibility and we should be aware of it.

However, I prefer to see the two events as an early warning to the Leadership which I hope they will heed. As I have argued ad nausium in this blog, supported by the views of several distinguished economists and commentators, the governments economic policy is plainly wrong, based on the fallacies that the public debt is abnormally great and that the highest priority is to reduce it or we are in danger of losing the confidence of "the markets."

So far the message does not seem to have been heard and it is galling to to hear Liberal Democrat Andrew Stunell repeating the tired mantras about the "woeful" deficit inherited from Labour (which) meant "very tough times" for all public services. Let's hope this is just a front and the leadership are taking to heart the lesson that the Tory economic policy is on the wrong track, and Liberal Democrats in government most distance themselves from it as far as possible, as leading members of the party on whom they depend are already doing.

Wednesday 9 February 2011


Cecil Rhodes, the colonist of central Africa, is said to have claimed that: "To be born British is to have won first prize in the lottery of life." The French take a similar view, and believe that to be French is the greatest privilege civilisation can bestow. Hence immigrants to France have the good fortune to be able to embrace its culture and the most beautiful and logical language in the world and enter into that privileged state. This view has a certain logic

Historically Britain has taken a more liberal stance. In the Guardian of 28th November 2007 Timothy Garton Ash wrote: "Liberalism properly understood (is) a quest for the greatest possible measure of individual freedom, compatible with the freedom of others." Hence immigrants over the centuries have, give or take a few glitches, had the freedom to continue their own way of life to the extent that it did not interfere with the established one, and our culture and diet have been greatly enhanced, and our economy stimulated.

The modern name for this liberal tolerance is multiculturalism , and it is a nonsense to say that it has failed. Of course there are problems. Ghettoisation is one, although immigrants themselves are hardly solely responsible. As Tariq Modood writes in yesterday's Guardian: "Research shows that all minorities - including Muslims - want to live in mixed neighbourhoods , and ghettos are created by those who move out." A more intractable problem arises where a traditional norm, such as an inferior status for women, clashes with the liberal value of equality held by the host country.

For centuries both Roman Catholics and Jews were regarded as suspicious aliens: today hardy anybody notices, though their faithful still carry out their own customs and practices. It is a nonsense to declare our present multicultural society a failure The solutions to the problems it presents are dialogue, tolerance, measures to promote interaction and prevent discrimination and, above all, time.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Difficult Decisions

Members of both parties in the coalition claim to the point of tedium that they are being forced to take difficult decisions with respect to the economy. In fact, there are hardly any difficult economic decisions to be made. The governments of two thirds of the world would love to have the luxury of the wealth that is Britain's in order to solve their very real economic problems. Our economic decisions are only difficult because we, the comfortably off, (and not just the bankers,) are too mean to share a little bit more of our wealth so as to to cushion effectively those who are hardest hit by what is, on the over-all scheme of things, a minor economic setback. Or maybe it is that our politicians are too cowardly to ask us.

What to do about the alleged Lockerbie bomber was a genuinely difficult decision. There were hints that he may have been wrongly convicted and that had his case gone to appeal he may have been found not guilty after all, there were obvious implications regarding our relationships with both Libya and the US, and our humane and legal responsibilities to a man who was and is thought to be terminally ill.

Sir Gus O'Donnell's report shows that the UK government brought no pressure on the Scottish Executive in the making of their decision, and it has already been established that in deciding the case the Scots scrupulously followed the requirements of their law. It is therefore shaming to hear Cameron toadying to the Americans by accusing the Labour government of wrong-doing. Cameron, so anxious for us to be proud of being British, should demonstrate that virtue of loyalty to colleagues (ie fellow British politicians) when they get things right.

Monday 7 February 2011

Bank Holidays

Apparently we have a Ministry for Tourism and it is thinking of abolishing the May Day bank holiday and replacing it with one in October, possible to be called UK Day (ugh!) or even Trafalgar Day (double ugh!)

In my view if any of the spring bank holidays is to be abolished it should be exactly that, the Spring Bank Holiday. This was originally the Whitsuntide Holiday but was replaced to a fixed day (since Whitsuntide, like Easter, is a movable feast)by Harold Wilson's government, hence it was know for a while as "Wilsontide." Since it no longer has any religious significance and no antiquity, other than a welcome day of it would would be no great loss. The glorous Saddleworth and District Band Competition would doubtless ignore all this messing about by governments,and continue to take place on Whit Friday, as it has done since 1884.

A holiday in the autumn would be welcome, but it is hard to decide which of the two suggestions is the more toe-curlingly embarrassing. That we should commemorate Trafalgar Day (21st October)with a holiday is obviously an attempt to pander to the prejudices of neanderthal anti- Europeans who love to bury their heads in the sands of the present, revel in past glories which are nothing to do with anyone alive today, insult the French and have no vision for the future. A UK Day to "celebrate Britishness" is almost as bad. My youthful diet of the novels of W E Johns and Percy F Westerman taught me that British patriotism should be understated. We should aim at apparently effortless competence but not shout about it as lesser nations do. I'm no longer so keen on the "lesser nations" part of the creed but feel that modest competence in all areas is something to be encouraged but applauded only discreetly.

My own suggestion for an October bank holiday is United Nations Day, 24th October. This would help place a more favourable image on an organisation which, though still imperfect, is our best hope for the future - the organisation specifically devoted to peace through international co-operation and the international rule of law.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Libraries and Buses

Bus subsidies and library services seem to be high on the list of things to be reduced as a result of the cuts imposed by central government on local government. As usual these services are more important to the poor than to the rich. We comfortably-off can swan around in our cars or even 4x4s, can afford to buy our own books and have enough heated rooms for our children to be able to do their homework in peace and quiet.

Today there are to be nation-wide demonstrations to try and save libraries. I wish them luck, but at the same time have reservations about the quality and nature of the libraries to be preserved. A correspondent in the Guardian this week wrote that "(libraries) offer the rare commodity of peace and quiet as well as a whole world of imagination and information. Older children can safely go there to browse, revise or do homework without background distractions."

I had experience of a local library like that during my recent year in France, but here in Kirklees, my local library has been turned into a one-stop "Information Centre" where, in addition to borrowing books, people come to pay their council tax, rent and other dues, receive advice from counsellors and councillors, and on at least one occasion, a mother an baby group rent the air assunder with a spirited rendition of:" The wheels on the bus go round and round." That occasion apart the noisiest people are normally the staff, who welcome the various participants with loud enthusiasm. Hushed tones are a thing of the past. Yet this mixture of incompatible activities is regarded by our Council as a great success and a model for the rest of the District.

A report out this week advocates that local government should sell off purpose built buildings and concentrate activities in just one or two such "one-stop" centres. Fine if there are separate rooms for separate activities. Otherwise this trend should be resisted. Libraries should be preserved as libraries.

PS A splendid article by David Blanchflower in this week's New Statesman compares the coalition's economic policy to that of Lord Cardigan at the Charge of the Light Brigade. Well worth a read.

Egypt,, Arabia and "the West"

In the mid 1970s the UK experienced one of its regular financial crises and had to ask the IMF for stop-gap help. That's what the IMF, set up by Keynes, was designed for and there was nothing exceptional about the application, but even so it caused considerable embarrassment and resentment that the IMF, with its US (and now monetarist) majority could tell our sovereign nation how to organise its finances. The resentment cost Labour the next election (even though by them all the temporary loan had been repaid) and it was another 18 years before they had gained enough credibility to win another.

If this relatively routine financial transaction could cause such embarrassment and loss of face in Britain, what on earth is going to be the effect of the unsolicited, patronising and condescending "demands" from Western politicians on the feelings of equally sovereign nations in the Middle East? The Egyptians are grown up people, many well educated with, if it is relevant, a recorded heritage and history far longer than ours. Since the Americans have bankrolled the Mubarak regime throughout its rule they have, perhaps, a legitimate interest in making their views known, though preferably in private. Cameron et al, with enough problems of their own to solve, should shut up and let these sovereign nations sort out their own problems. Preaching from the former colonial power will only serve to generate further resentment and hostility from which ever side of their divides the nationals find themselves.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Save our Forests

Well, would you believe it: the party which at the end of every Assembly used to sing:

The land, the land,
'Twas God who made the land,
The land, the land,
The ground on which we stand,
Why should we be beggars
With a ballot in our hand?
God gave the land to the people

is now part of a government which proposes to sell off to private developers what bit of our land actually does belong to the people.

Fortunately this proposal has raised the ire of the Tory shires as well as we wild radicals, and there is a petition by the Woodland Trust which I urge you to sign.

The demands of the petition are balanced. They request that the ancient woodlands be recognised as a "special case", urge that the damage done by the forestry commission in defacing such woodlands by over-coniferisation be rectified , and call for existing rights of access and "wild life value" to be preserved.

Personally I find this a bit on the tame side, particularly with respect to the preservation of public rights of access. When the extension of Sunday Trading was authorised all sorts of promises were made about preserving the rights of employees not to work on Sundays, that the chances of promotion for those who opted out would not be harmed and even that overtime rates for Sunday working would be preserved. Those promises are now hardly worth a "bucket of warm spit," (which I believe is a Bowdlerised version of what an America President said), and I suspect much the same will happen to access rights to woodlands one the private sector get their hands on them.

Rather than selling off our land I'd prefer to see a Liberal government taking more and more of this "gift of nature" back into the ownership of the public to whom it really belongs. In the meantime, we need to ask what has happed to our excellent policy of land value taxation.