Saturday, July 07, 2007

Simon Heffer is Hugo Swire's best mate, also wants another war

More drivel interesting stuff from Simon Heffer in today’s Telegraph. He devotes much of his column to the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle, which he derides as being generally uninteresting:

Various people of whom almost no-one has ever heard were moved around to prove that the Tory party, rather tiresomely, continues its process of “change”.

Simon appears to have missed that the government has reorganised departments, and so the opposition has to reorient to effectively shadow them. This is surprising, as it was in the news. Never mind though, he does continue:

The only reason that I am remotely interested in the event is that in included an act so shabby and disgraceful that it requires a wider audience.

The reason why Simon is remotely interested in the event is because he is paid to be. The act that he mentions was the sacking of Hugo Swire and the reason for his particular excitement is revealed later on in the piece:

Mr. Swire is an old friend of mine.

Simon, at some length, deconstructs the reason for Hugo Swire’s removal and it goes like this: the proximate cause of Mr. Swire’s fall was his statement that Museums should be able to charge for entrance, however Simon excuses this claiming he was ‘merely’ repeating from the 2005 Conservative general election manifesto. In this Simon is being intellectually dishonest in a number of regards. He knows, for example, that the Conservative Party is no longer bound by the policies espoused in that manifesto and that a manifesto from a lost election is always ditched as part of the process of preparing for the next contest. He also knows that front-bench politicians are expected to operate at a high level of political awareness, and not to drop their party in it with ill-thought out comments. So, the idea that Hugo Swire gets a pass because he was parroting an obsolete 2-year out of date policy is absurd and if Simon really believes that he really has no clue about the political process in this country. But Simon has more. He claims that Mr. Swire really got the chop because he was an old Etonian. The thesis appears to be that a David Cameron who went to Eton and who has many colleagues and advisors who also went to Eton sacked someone who went to Eton in order to prove how egalitarian he is. This when most of the public had never heard of Hugo Swire, much less understood where he went to school. This is not just nonsense, it is ridiculous nonsense.

Having disposed of that issue; Simon then goes on to casually advocate an invasion of Zimbabwe in a couple of throwaway sentences. This chap is a grown-up writing in a broadsheet and he treats the subject of committing British troops to war in Southern Africa it with less analysis than his musings on Bert the Dog’s academic achievements. One thing can be certain, if there were to be a war in Zimbabwe Simon would be no-where near the front line. He’s much more interested in Bert the Dog, and trashing the Conservative Party.

Guess what, we're now allowed to fly the Union Flag

Little known facts of the world no.12: government rules were that the Union Flag should only be flown from public buildings on 18 specific days of the year. Because of the administrative hassle of hoisting the flag up and down on the particular days, the net effect of this was that most UK public buildings did not fly the Union Flag. One exception was the Council offices in Basildon. The Conservative administration that took over in 2002 thought the rules absurd, raised the flag, and it has been there ever since. Now the Labour government has finally caught up with Basildon; the 18 day rule is to be scrapped so public buildings can fly the flag all the year round, which, of course, we were doing anyway. This is good news though; reclaiming our national flag from both the far-Right and the politically-correct left who mutter that it isn’t ‘inclusive’ enough is a long overdue step for any government.

Hang on though; Basildon also flies the Cross of St. George, this being England after all. Somehow, I think that Gordon Brown will find that a flag too far.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

More Regional Government for England

Now there are to be ministers for the English Regions. Ours is Barbara Follet, who said:
We need to give English regions representation. I want to give the East of England a real voice.
Right. The East of England already has the East of England Regional Assembly, or EERA, which I happen to sit on. Now, this is nothing like Scottish and Welsh devolution as the members are either Councillors, or simply appointed. The appointees have the balance of power, ensuring that the body lacks any democratic legitimacy, and the EERA doesn't even have any proper rules of debate or voting procedures. So, things go through on a show of hands without named votes. This means unelected members deciding things for the people of the East of England without having to take any responsibility, because no-one knows who actually voted for anything, just the numbers. Not surprisingly, EERA has less credibility than most village fete committees and it, and similar bodies for the rest of England, have not quelled the groundswell of dissatisfaction over the democratic deficit between Scotland and England, where Scottish MPs can decide English policy but not vice versa. Brown's answer, apparently, is to sideline the assemblies and bring in ministers for the regions. Frankly, the idea that this represents a re-balancing of the constitution is laughable. Until a government actually grips this issue then the call for English votes for English laws will continue to resonate.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Brown at PMQs: 'I've only been in the job five days'

It was the Great Clunking First versus the lightweight. This was the contest Gordon Brown had been waiting for since he entered parliament in 1983, now he would show the world what a Prime Minister should be. Brown squared up to David Cameron and, to mix sporting metaphors, not only dropped the ball but stood on it. He looked haggard, stuttered, and in answer to one question complained that he had only been in the job for five days. David Cameron had asked why the Jihadi group Hizb ut Tahrir had not been banned, since they openly call for the murder of Jews. Brown did not have a clue, and it fell to John Reid to try and help out. The trouble was while he was spelling out the government's position on these people he was also rubbing in the fact that Brown, well, didn't have a clue.

From what I have seen, the broadcast media are calling it a score draw. They are being kind and I predict that the print media won't be.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Private Treatment Centre for Basildon means Local Hospital Cuts

Basildon is to have a new Independent Sector Treatment Centre. This is a private mini-hospital, specialising in orthopaedics, with 18 in-patient beds and over a hundred staff. Surely this in unadulterated good news you think. Well, there are few niggles. First, this was dropped on Basildon by the Department of Health, with no local consultation whatsoever, not even with the local Health Trusts. Next, the funding model for private treatment centres pays on a per-patient basis. So, in terms of funding following patient, a spiral compound fracture to a 70-year old is identical to a clean break to a teenager. The money may be the same, but the complexity and duration of the medical treatment is radically different. Where Treatment Centres have opened in the past they have cherry-picked the straightforward cases, our teenager who needs to spend six weeks in a cast, and left the more complex ones to the NHS, like our pensioner who needs three operations and a year of rehabilitation. This hits the local hospitals hard, and Basildon Hospital estimates that it would lose about £10m per annum in funding and over a dozen staff. The third problem is that the private company doesn’t propose to build a new facility, instead they want convert some vacant warehouse/factory units. Our Planning Committee has already thrown out one application, but now they are back with another.

Now, I am a Tory, I have no problem with companies making money, or even making money from healthcare provided the treatment is up to scratch. I do have a problem with running a skewed health market where cost of treatment does not affect payment to provider, so the private sector can make money by just doing the simple cases and rely on the NHS to take on anything they don’t like the look of. As John Baron, the Conservative MP for Billericay has made clear, it’s not the private sector’s fault; it’s the government’s fault.

Forcing an ISTC onto Basildon could drain £millions away from our hospital which would harm staff training and morale, and ultimately the standard of patient care. No wonder Basildon hospital is against it. I will continue to press the government on this in the hope that it changes its mind. I would encourage all concerned residents to write to the government about this issue.

Our rabidly anti-capitalist Basildon Labour Party has kept quiet on this one, though not, to her credit, Angela Smith, who is the Labour MP for Basildon. Now she is at the heart of the Brown government maybe she can arrange to keep our local doctors and nurses in their jobs. We shall see.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Al Qaeda Attacks Britain

Islam is one of the great world religions, teaching many virtues and providing order and guidance to the lives of more than a billion people. Radical Islamism, on the other hand, is a poisonous political ideology that spawns hatred and violence of the most brutal and indiscriminate kind. Its basic tenant appears to be that anyone who does not subscribe to a narrow, political, version of Islam can and should be killed, be they man, woman or child; be they Moslem or any other faith. An especial twist is that Radical Islamists often seek their own suicide in acts of violence, often to no other purpose, and this self-destruction makes them utterly indifferent to the carnage and grief they leave behind. These vermin have recently visited their spite on Britain again, this time proving inept rather than deadly, but we were very lucky and the nation could easily have been in mourning today. For those that haven't noticed, we at war with these people, a war made more brutal by the absolute impossibility of a negotiated peace, because there is no common ground upon which any kind of peace can be based. Most adults in the UK have been here before, until the IRA finally saw sense and laid down their arms. That was a long haul though, and this looks to be longer.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Same old Labour, in Basildon at least

Most of Basildon's leisure infrastructure was built in the 1980s, including a number of sports centres. This was done by a Labour administration, and a pretty left-wing one at that. So, the centres were designed towards an egalitarian ideal, being relatively small and scattered and specifically not meant to cater to elite sports. As a result, we have swimming pools that are deliberately too short for competition, I know that sounds unbelievable, and many facilities that won't support the sort of training that is required to excel. All fine and dandy, but having built sports centres, Basildon Labour determinedly refused to put any money by to actually maintain them. For those who are not familiar with local government 'depreciation' is not a frequently used term, so buildings can quietly deteriorate without any embarrassing red ink. Of course, when a building is brand new not funding maintenance doesn't have too much of an effect, but when they have been up for decades then it certainly does.

Now there is a Conservative administration in Basildon, and we are trying to do something before sports centres and swimming pools have to close for Health and Safety reasons. The plan is to build a 'Sports Village', a large multi-function installation that is of high enough quality to support 2012 and regional competition, and to ensure that the people of Basildon have the best sports facility for casual use. The Council is putting up £15m, with other funding partners also donating substantial sums. The project has the support of just about everyone, including the Communities and Local Government department and East of England Development Agency. In fact, the only people who don't want it are, you guessed it, Basildon Labour Party. Their issue is that they don't want private sector involvement in operating or maintaining any building. Despite this being the 21st century, and despite their past failures, they think that the most important thing is not the excellence of the facility, or the price charged to the punters on the door, but that it has a big Basildon Council logo and, eventually they hope, a bunch of Labour Councillors running the show. That ruling out private involvement might jeopardise the whole project interests them not. Public sector good, private sector bad, anyone making a profit very bad.

This whole New Labour thing has pretty much passed them by.