Saturday, June 16, 2007

9/11 'Truth'

Most readers of this will never have heard of the 9/11 'Truth' movement. These are the nutcases people who think that the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 in the US were some sort of inside job. There is a whole theology around this belief, with different factions who, as is traditional for such groups, hate each other. Some of them are deeply unpleasant, with overt anti-Semitism and all of them base their theories on bad science, bad logic, quotes out of context, unsourced rumour, political extremism and, well, lies. So, who cares? People believe in all sorts of nonsense. What makes this conspiracy theory different? It is simply this; the 'Truth' industry gives Al Qaeda and its spawn a pass. According to the conspiracists Islamic Terrorism either does not exist, or if it does it is much less culpable in terrorism than the US government. Their nuttiness becomes dangerous when it leaks into mainstream politics, where it often fuses with general anti-Americanism or a dislike of George Bush. By trying to move the focus from real terrorists to imagined conspiracy, idiots like Michael Meacher MP risk weakening the fight against people who would kill you and everyone you know if they thought it would advance their cause one centimetre.

If you want to revise your opinion of how stupid people can be then just enter '9/11 conspiracy' into Google and sit back.

Friday, June 15, 2007

NICE Blind?

Another odd decision from NICE, that's the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence if you haven't deciphered the acronym. Hot on the heels of their no-win, no-fee approach to Velcade, they have evaluated another drug, this time for a condition that causes blindness, and decided to limit it to 20% of potential patients and one eye each! Inevitably, the Scottish equivalent is having none of this and Scots will all be able to be treated for both of their eyes. Again we have ask why NICE evaluates drugs differently from the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, and why the result always seems to be Scots getting treatment that the English and Welsh are denied.

John Baron, local MP and Health spokesman was less than impressed:

This decision is very odd and disappointing given that Gordon Brown’s constituents are going to get Macugen and Lucentis on the NHS, but patients in England are not – as SW Essex PCT has recently confirmed. It also goes against the ethos of the NHS that patients are expected to go blind in one eye before they receive treatment.

Before NICE makes its final decision, it ought to re-examine how it came to this view and should listen to the Royal College and the RNIB – and examine evidence from north of the border.

It is vital that our NHS continues to make available the latest breakthroughs in medical technology to all who use its services. I am therefore concerned that Macugen is the latest in a long line of exciting new drugs that are available free on the NHS in Scotland but not in England. If we have a National Health Service, it must be truly ‘national’.

John is right. Something's up.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Labour Selection for Basildon

The Labour party have started their selection for the new parliamentary constituency of Basildon and Billericay. There is currently a Basildon Seat and a Billericay seat. In the future there will be the aforementioned Basildon and Billericay constituency and a South Basildon and East Thurrock constituency. Angela Smith, the sitting Labour MP for Basildon will probably go for the latter while John Baron, the sitting Conservative MP for Billericay will almost certainly defend the former. So, the Labour Party are, very decently, trying to find him an opponent.

According to the Electoral Calculus website, the numbers look like this:

Basildon and Billericay
Region: Essex
MP John Baron (CON)
Electorate64,873 Turnout60.20%

2005 Votes2005 SharePrediction
OTH3,096 7.93%
MIN1,805 4.62%
CON Majority3,587 9.19% Pred Maj15.77%

Basildon South and East Thurrock
Region: Essex
MP Angela Smith (LAB)
Electorate71,108 Turnout58.95%

2005 Votes2005 SharePrediction
OTH2,446 5.83%
MIN250 0.60%
LAB Majority461 1.10% Pred Maj 6.84%CON Gain

It looks like John's opponent has their work cut out. Oh, and Angela's in trouble.

Wickford, Europe

We are just starting the procurement process for a development partner for Wickford Town Centre. That's one of the four town centres in Basildon District that we are rebuilding, and the start of the formal tender process brought a number of press enquiries asking if we were particularly looking for a mainland European company for the Wickford project in order to give the town a 'continental feel'. Er, no. It's because the OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union) process that we must follow makes any tender Europe-wide. We may or may not end up with a non-UK, or even a non-EU, developer, but I can't guarantee patisseries and espresso bars. Sorry.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Biter Bit

Tony Blair has given a speech in which, he complains, at length about the media. Apparently the modern rolling 24-hour news cycle is like a 'feral beast' and is damaging in its relationship with politics. Well, he has a point. Politics and politicians are trivialised, issues ignored and any perceived mistake can quickly degenerate into a process story that leaves any actual policy behind. But whose bloody fault is that? Here is clue:

We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our own defence, after 18 years of Opposition and the, at times, ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative.

Let us remind ourselves that for years Tony Blair's media guru was an ex-tabloid journalist who was renowned as a bully and a liar and who saw that the actual business of government played second fiddle to the next day's headlines. Blair and Labour created the current climate, spinning and spinning until it all finally spun out of control. The media got tired of being manipulated and the lies got to big to manage, but by then cynicism and disdain for the political process had been built into the system. Now we all have to live with Alistair Campbell's and Tony Blair's legacy and it is a bit rich for one of principal architects to start complaining.

'It is not a whinge about how unfair it all is.' Yes it is.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Beating the Far-Right

Across the channel the far-Right is in trouble. As the second round of French parliamentary elections approaches it appears that they will make their worst showing for years, and the reason is not hard to discern: mainstream French politicians are listening to their people's concerns in a way that leaves the extremists no ground to colonise. Sarkozy's UMP hasn't resorted to bigotry, but they are representing legitimate fears about immigration and national identity that had previously been left to Le Pen's National Front to exploit. Meanwhile, in Britain, there are signs that the Labour Government are getting the same message, with Ruth Kelly telling immigrants to learn English the latest in a serious pronouncements that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. It seems to be having the desired effect on this side of the Channel to, with the BNP making no progress in May's local elections.

Here in Basildon, the Conservatives have never had a problem with taking on the BNP, sometimes against the advice of other Tories who don't actually face that party in elections themselves. So, we act to scotch rumours about asylum seekers in Council houses, have a policy making local connections a consideration for getting a Council house and fly the Cross of St. George and the Union Flag above the Council offices.

To beat the far-Right, take away their issues.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Politics Almost Working

Basildon Town Centre project's procurement of a development partner came to Basildon Council's Cabinet last Thursday. As previously posted the principle of rebuilding Basildon Town Centre for the benefit of the local community is not the subject of any disagreement by any party, political or otherwise. However, there are different views on the previously published Development Framework and this meant that the Labour opposition on the Council did not feel that they could support everything that was proposed. To be fair though, they did vote for the parts of the recommendations that they felt they could instead of rejecting the lot. We have a Conservative majority on the Cabinet, so the procurement was approved anyway.

The bit in the Development Framework that local Labour Party don't like is where we propose to demolish and rebuild elsewhere both the current Council offices and the local theatre. These were built by a Labour Council in the 80s, funded by a mechanism that is now illegal, and are both unfit for their primary purpose. The offices are too small, cramming staff in like battery hens. Part of one floor is actually uninhabitable in summer due the heat trapped by the greenhouse roof and the building's position cordons off one end of the Town Centre. The theatre has a full-size stage but only around 400 seats in the auditorium, which makes it very difficult to get enough bums on seats to pay for the sort of show that could make best use of the facility. Previous attempts to run the place as a fully-programmed professional theatre were a financial disaster. It is currently is performing good service as a community theatre, but that role only requires a fraction of it current footprint. Despite these demerits, the Labour Party wants to retain both buildings and we have had to agree to differ, so that the project can go forward with a degree of political unity. On the basic proposition of rebuilding Basildon Town Centre there is no argument. Everyone wants this project to happen.

Pretty good for local government work.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Trashing the Green Belt

Not enough houses are being built, supply is outstripping demand, ergo: build on the Green Belt. Sounds plausible doesn't it? Minette Marrin certainly thinks so, writing in the Sunday Times. Her diagnosis is that despite huge demand for houses, despite the guaranteed profits that can be made by housing development, it is the reluctance to release Green Belt land that is the sand in the gears of the housing market. In fact, the problem is more technical, more boring, and a little less useful as the basis for a column in a Sunday broadsheet. As previously posted on this blog, the government has bolloxed up the process by which local authorities organise planning and development. By introducing the fiendishly complicated and legally flawed Local Development Frameworks in place of the tried and robust Local Plans they slowed down the release of land for housing to a snail's pace. That is the problem, not the use or otherwise of Green Belt. Ask a professional planner, or just try to find one with a good word to say about LDFs. The recent Planning White Paper has suggested some reform the LDF process, which is at least an admission that it is less than perfect, but it still only proposes tinkering around the edges. Bottom line: it is not a choice between Green Belt or housing shortage, it is a choice between a bureaucratic nightmare of a process that takes years to deliver and going back to something like the way things used to work, with 'work' being the operative word.